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Sorry, Waitrose, but your email marketing sucks

I have to admit, the Waitrose ‘coffee gate’ scandal – aka the supermarket announcing the end of free hot beverages for loyalty card holders – earlier this year had me somewhat amused.

In fact, the most humourous piece of content I saw on the whole issue wasn’t the Daily Mash’s tongue in cheek article about Waitrose totally freaking out. It was Waitrose’s own email communication to its customers.

In an attempt not to offend its most valuable customer base, Waitrose managed to break every rule of good content marketing – and utterly fail to win over the hearts and minds of its loyal shoppers.

And as a content marketer, I can’t help but dissect where Waitrose went wrong…


I know exactly what the Waitrose email marketing team was trying to do in their header: focus on the positive, not lead with the fact they’re about to revoke their latest offer. However, the heading banner entitled ‘enjoying your free tea or coffee’ does come over a little ‘instructional’; I’m pretty sure most people know how to consume a hot beverage – free or not.

And if you weren’t quite patronised enough by the implications in the header banner, a quick scroll down to the main body copy reveals a helpful guide to free tea and coffee etiquette.

Etiquette?! It’s a supermarket, not a finishing school…


In conversation, you can always tell when someone’s building up to an awkward point, as it’ll be preceded with a lot of rationalising waffle. Essentially, Waitrose message to loyalty card holders is that free tea or coffee is only available if you buy something to go with it, but it takes them 5 paragraphs to make this point in their email communication.


To decode content marketing speak, personalisation is essentially targeting relevant messages to recipients that will resonate with their opinions or concerns. But whilst evoking an emotional reaction is good, it’s important to remember that you’re trying to build a trusted brand relationship – not pretend to be their best friend. Hence why sentences such as this just don’t hit the mark:

“Just in the same way as a friend might offer a hot drink when you visit their home, we think it’s what a caring business should do when a loyal customer shops with us.”


People are fundamentally cynical about brand-led messages, so the best way to gain their respect it to just cut to the chase. In their final paragraph, Waitrose eventually gets to the point:

“From 9 February we will be asking myWaitrose members who wish to enjoy their free tea or coffee in one of our Cafes to also purchase a treat – such as a sandwich, cake, biscuit or piece of fruit. This change will enable us to continue to offer our customer the enjoyable service they expect.”

In my opinion, the free tea saga is a bit like one of those situations where you’re ambling up the street, unaware that someone is hovering behind you, desperate to overtake; as soon as they say excuse me, you apologise and move out of the way.

Most reasonable people understand that Waitrose doesn’t want to turn away paying customers from its food outlets, and would be happy to buy a biscuit or packet of crisps – for less than the price of the cup of tea or coffee – to round out their supermarket visit with some well-earned R&R.

All Waitrose had to do was say it openly and honestly. That would’ve won a lot more credibility.


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