From coffee to cars: how Britain became a nation of subscribers

The pandemic has seen a boom in companies offering a paid monthly membership. But why are so many of us signing up – and will we kick the habit after lockdown?

If the Covid-19 era has taught us one thing about ourselves and our fellow humans, it’s that we really like coffee. More proof came on a Tuesday in early September last year when Pret a Manger launched its in-shop coffee subscription YourPret Barista. For £20 a month, you could have five drinks a day, every day, including coffee, tea and smoothies (redeemed with at least 30 minutes between each drink order). Pret had been expecting 2,000 or at a push 3,000 people to sign up on the first day. By 3pm, the scheme had already topped 15,000 subscribers.

Clare Clough, Pret’s managing director in the UK, insists this was a pleasant surprise and that, not for a second, did the company wonder if it had undervalued its new offering. “Absolutely not,” she says. “One of the big reasons we started the coffee subscription was that when we reopened our first 10 shops after [the first] lockdown, we saw people posting on Instagram this moment of being reunited with their Pret coffee. People were holding it aloft like it was a football trophy or something. And we wanted to celebrate that by offering a value-for-money proposition that was almost too good to be true.”

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