Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Pret a Manger
Where: United Kingdom
When: 21 December 2021
Law stated as at: 13 December 2021
The UK’s advertising regulator has sent an advice notice to Pret a Manger suggesting it to rethink its adverts for its subscription service. Pret’s subscription service lets subscribers enjoy five barista-made drinks a day, which include any hot drinks as well as iced coffees and smoothies.
Pret’s advertising stated that “If our baristas brew it, blend it or steam it, you can have it!”. However, customers complained that they were not able to get certain drinks through their subscription, as some shops said that they were unable to make them. The café chain received around 5000 complaints about the deal. Customers claimed that some drinks, including smoothies and frappes, were often not available. There had also been claims that some employees informed customers that they had “stopped doing smoothies” altogether. It has been alleged that colleagues pretended that the smoothie machines are broken in order to avoid making the desired drinks, due to the time-consuming nature of the blending.
The ASA contacted Pret asking it to consider reviewing the adverts for the deal – the ads should not “state or imply that the service was available in all store locations, or that it covers their entire range of products if that wasn’t the case”. Pret confirmed that it had spoken to the ASA to “ensure all Pret marketing for the coffee subscription is in accordance with their latest guidance”.
Why this matters:
Pret’s introduction of a subscription model followed a difficult lockdown period for the café chain. For the most part, it has been a popular offering with customers, especially those who have recently returned to working from offices based in city centres.
The CMA has recently published compliance principles for anti-virus software businesses that utilise automatically renewing contracts with consumers in the UK. Although these principles are aimed at anti-virus software businesses, there are a number of principles that businesses offering subscription services should consider. Subscriptions service providers should:
· make sure their customers are able to make a fully informed choice about auto renewal – provide clear and prominent information about auto renewal including the price, length of renewed contract period and how it works. The customer should not have to go searching for it;
· make sure that customers can easily turn off auto renewal – this should be as simple and easy as it was to sign up. They should not have to call or be misled or pressurised; and
· when the contract is automatically renewed, give customers the chance to change their mind and also make it easy for customers to obtain a full refund if they need one.
In sum, it is clear that these principles are applicable to any consumer facing businesses utilising contract auto-renewal. Businesses should review their current approach and implement changes where necessary. The CMA considers that home and car insurance contracts could be excluded from the scope of the new rules on auto-renewal given the especially negative consequences for consumers in not being insured.