Earlier this week, Waitrose announced that they are planning to axe free cups of tea and coffee for shoppers in all their supermarkets, unless they make a purchase first.

At the moment, the free coffee scheme is open to the retailer’s loyalty scheme members who are currently allowed to help themselves to a free hot drink while browsing around the store. However, Waitrose has now written to all members of its myWaitrose loyalty scheme informing them that as of 3 April this year, a purchase of some sort will be required before they are allowed to pick up a takeaway drink cup from the checkout.

Complaints about ‘free-loaders’

Over the last few months Waitrose has received a number of complaints from its regular shoppers about big queues at the free self-service coffee machines, largely made up of students and office workers, keen for a free cuppa. The queues have led to problems of overcrowding in the cafes, which has angered genuine shoppers.

Waitrose has previously made changes to the free coffee deal. In 2015, members of the loyalty scheme were informed that in order to enjoy a free hot drink in one of the cafes, they would also need to purchase a ‘treat’, for example a cake, a biscuit, a piece of fruit, or a sandwich. At the time, the store denied that this was a cost-cutting exercise, citing the obligatory purchase as a reminder of the ‘etiquette’ that was expected as part of its offer.

Cost cutting strategy

The latest change in the free coffee loyalty ‘reward’ is another example of cost cutting by the John Lewis Partnership owned grocer. The company recently hit the headlines when it cut its staff bonus to levels not seen since the 1950s, and this is in spite of a rise in pre-tax profits of 21%. The bonus was reportedly cut in order to combat rising costs associated with the devaluation of sterling following the Brexit vote.

The long-established grocer is facing robust competition from rival discount stores, such as Aldi and Lidl who are expanding rapidly right across the UK. Market leader, Tesco also poses tough opposition in the fight for customers thanks to its low price and multi-purchase deal incentives.

Waitrose recently announced plans to close six of its stores, along with a restructure that would see one tier of management removed from all of its supermarkets, jeopardising almost 700 jobs.

Coffee by Sam Howzit licensed under Creative commons 4