During the lockdown, several high street favourites kept themselves afloat by offering a subscription service, the most successful being Hotel Chocolat. The high street chocolatier’s profits actually increased in 2020, thanks in no small part to the popularity of its Tasting Club subscription service.

Subscriptions were initially seen as a temporary way to retain customers until shops could reopen, but shops are increasingly seeing them as the way forward after reopening. Pret a Manger recently announced the launch of its YourPret Barista service. For £20 a month, subscribers can order up to five drinks a day. The company has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, as the rise in remote working has decimated its usual trade from office workers. Back in July, Pret announced the closure of 30 stores and up to 1,000 redundancies, so there is clearly a lot riding on their latest decision. But does a subscription model make financial sense?

The answer largely depends on customer behaviour. A customer taking full advantage and ordering 150 coffees a month would end up paying around 13p for each drink. Coffee is cheap to make in bulk, but it’s not that cheap, so such behaviour would mean a sizable loss for Pret.

There are other factors to take into account though. The most obvious is that few customers are likely to take full advantage of the service, and many will take it out but only use it occasionally.

Secondly, food is not included in the subscription, and customers taking advantage of their free coffees are likely to spend more on accompanying snacks.

Pret is also a popular meeting place and, if somebody has a subscription, they are likely to suggest Pret as a frequent location. This would mean that the subscriber would effectively become a brand ambassador, bringing in extra business from full-paying customers.

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, it could be suggested that Pret’s real plan is to bring down its rivals. Subscribers are likely to choose Pret over other high street chains, potentially putting them out of business. Once Pret is the only available option, it can either raise the price of its subscription or simply end the offer altogether.

Despite the low prices, it seems that YourPret is a smart move from a struggling company. Pret has little to lose at the moment and, if their new model is successful, it could pave the way for a very different high street experience.