Pret A Manger was already going through a digital transformation project when the pandemic struck, causing city footfall to drop off a cliff, and calling into question the viability of its retail estate. Bringing about a radical rethink of its strategy, and the acceleration of its journey to becoming a multi-channel retailer, Pret chief information and transformation officer Sarah Venning discusses the brand’s approach to delivery and click and collect – and how insights from these channels led to the creation of the innovative coffee subscription.
Tell us about your delivery proposition and how it has been developed over the last 12 months
When we went into the pandemic, we needed to start thinking very differently about delivery. Apart from anything else, there’s the very obvious fact that we don’t have large tower blocks in London with lots of glossy offices full of workers. That model just simply wasn’t the right model. As we stepped into the pandemic we needed to think really differently.
We decided we needed to make it as easy as possible for our customers to engage with our brand, and that informed our whole digital strategy, much more broadly than thinking about just delivery. In order to do that we put Pret live on a number of the delivery platforms, Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats in the UK, Food Panda in Hong Kong, different ones in different markets. We’ve been very keen to try a lot of things that are new for us in this year, it’s been a real opportunity. The more open we can be to our customers, the better.
What insights did you learn from those initial periods of the pandemic and over the past 12 months?
It’s been really interesting. We’ve got this really rich source of data that we never had before. That gives us far deeper insight into our customers and their preferences, such as how different demographics of customers in different regions shop in Pret differently. It gives us this massive source of data that’s starting to influence our decision making in a way that hadn’t before at Pret. The teams have been brilliant over the years developing a highly refined gut instinct for trading within shops, and our digital developments this year have brought a whole new load of data that comes into that decision making.
One thing that has been really influential was how much our customers were interested in our coffee by delivery. We thought people would be interested in food, they’d be interested in lunch, but actually coffee from the start traded much stronger than we were expecting. And that led to our thinking about how we could we engage with customers more deeply using digital around coffee, and contributing to our thinking about the coffee subscription.
Another example is the day parts and when people were wanting to shop from us. We went in thinking people would want to buy their breakfast and lunch from Pret, but actually we were seeing people were still interested in Pret later in the day than we assumed. That led on to some of our early trials around Dinners, and realising that, yes people want to consume a different product later in the day, but they’re still looking to Pret to provide that.
How did you go about positioning Pret’s offering for delivery?
To state the obvious, 2020 has been a year of extraordinary challenge. But it’s also been a period of extraordinary transformation and reinvention. We’ve had to fundamentally rethink how we take what is really magical and what our customers love about Pret to our customers, wherever they are. Originally people just engaged with us physically, now they want to engage with Pret digitally, and that’s meant that we’ve had to develop capabilities.
The good thing about this whole crisis is our core strategy around digital development was set before the pandemic. It was a question of us accelerating the strategy rather than a complete change of tack. But we’ve had to really rapidly accelerate those new capabilities. That means being great at talking to our customers on social media, and ensuring the real personality and the ‘joy of Pret’ comes through in those channels.
When people talk to us about Pret, they love the food, the convenience, the customer service, so we’ve had to think about how we can replicate those or create new versions of them through digital channels. It has been really challenging and we’ve had to try a lot of different things to see what works, we’ve had to experiment.
Another big change is how we’ve had to work in a very matrixy, agile, fluid way. Traditional bricks and mortar retail tends to be quite structured, quite hierarchical, everybody knows exactly the role they do. With digital it’s more fluid. People work across Teams. We try things and adapt them. It’s been a different way of working, but interestingly for us, it’s been a much faster way of working.
Pret has been a real perfectionist sort of company in the past. Now we realise we can keep those high standards, but go a lot faster to bring customers what they want.
Can you still access a rich pool of consumer data when working with third parties?
The most important thing for us is the security of our customer’s data, that’s something we take incredibly seriously. We have great confidence in our third-party delivery partners. There is the data that we get through those channels, but there’s also the much richer data we get from customers engaging directly with our own propositions, such as coffee subscription.
I never liked the conversations about who owns the customer data, because ultimately the customer owns their data. But we have a greater insight into that data with a wholly owned proposition than with a third party.
Your coffee subscription is currently in-store only and accessed via a digital wallet. Any plans to make this available for delivery or click and collect?
Watch and wait! We launched the coffee subscription really fast last year when people started coming back to work in September. It was the fastest digital development I’ve ever been involved in in my career. To do that, it was sensible to make it quite a simple proposition, one that you engage with digitally through mobile web. We didn’t want to over complicate it, because we didn’t know how customers would react. We wanted to make sure we were getting that core proposition right in shops first.
The real focus in the early months has been about learning from that. It has really surpassed our expectations in terms of the customer response, it’s been fantastic. What we’ve been doing is working on how we finesse it, how we learn from the enormous amounts of data that are coming from that in terms of the direction that customers want us to go in.
Our whole digital strategy and broader strategy is to make sure that our customers can have a really joined up experience across all of Pret’s propositions, in store and digital, so we become a truly omni-channel organisation, and people can buy and engage with Pret however they want. Ultimately, we expect all of our digital propositions to work seamlessly together, so that you would be able to also experience the coffee subscription through delivery, order ahead etc. We’ve got lots in the pipeline around coffee subscription, that will be coming in 2021.
How much of a factor is click and collect for you at the moment or is the footfall not there right now?
We think it’s going to be really important. When we look at our business in Manhattan, the market for order ahead, click and collect, is really significant. In the UK, and ultimately in all of our global markets, we think that’s the direction of travel. It’s a really important part of our plans for 2021, though at the beginning of February, lockdown volumes are really low.
We are in a much better place this time round [compared to the first lockdown], we’ve really learned a lot over the last year. Of course we want our lovely customers coming in to busy shops - we love that. But at the same time, we’re using the time to really focus on developing and enhancing our new propositions, thinking how we’re going to come out of this crisis stronger.
We already know, compared to how we went into this crisis, that we are a far stronger business, we have much richer capabilities. We are now an omni-channel retailer, we’re not just a physical shops business. The depth of our relationship with our best customers is stronger than ever before. It’s tough, but we’re using the time well.
Are there any other tech developments around delivery and click and collect that that you’re looking into at the moment?
Enhancing what we’re doing around order ahead, click and collect is going to be really important for us. By the end of this year Pret will have a really full, rich digital proposition that actually joins up, not a disjointed customer experience where you maybe have an app that does loyalty, but doesn’t integrate with mobile web. The approach we’re taking is that this needs to be fully seamless, from our customers perspective. We’re thinking further down the line around enhancing the coffee subscription, and taking the digital developments that we’ve done in the UK to our other markets. We shall see how coffee subscription, and our digital channels come together towards something in the area of loyalty, potentially later this year.
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HOSTECH: THE BIG INTERVIEW
How Pret went from bricks and mortar brand to multi-channel retailer
Pret A Manger was already going through a digital transformation project when the pandemic struck, causing city footfall to drop off a cliff, and calling into question the viability of its retail estate. Bringing forward a radical rethink of its strategy, and the acceleration of its journey to becoming a multi-channel retailer, Pret chief information and transformation officer Sarah Venning discusses the brand’s approach to delivery and click and collect – and how insights from these channels led to the creation of the innovative coffee subscription.