“It’s a storm in a teacup, brewin’ up double, over any little trouble” – today’s blog reflects on the pitfalls of tampering with membership benefits.

This week Waitrose announced that the hot drinks free to members will only now be available after they make a purchase. “And…?” we hear you ask.

Well ordinarily this blog rises above the froth of the coffee world but then this is no ordinary membership. This is Waitrose. So not unsurprisingly social media was soon awash with both serious and more light-hearted comments ranging from “It seems I am now destined to balance the cup as I unload the bags into the boot” to “A collective gasp from middle England as @waitrose announces you now have to “buy something” before indulging in free teas and coffees”. Now the latter probably tells us as much about the brand as it does the membership scheme itself. The members who choked at the threat to their right to bear Americanos before lifting a basket are the very same shoppers that inspired the mirthful ‘Overheard in Waitrose’. But archetypes aside, this commentary reminds us that the motivations for membership remain cast in stone.

Understandably most membership organisations would like like to believe that it’s the magnetism of the brand and a desire to ‘belong’ that drives subscription. However they know that only in the most extreme circumstances does the heart rule the head, as when the members of Royal Wimbledon Golf Club turned down offers reported to be in the region of £50,000 each to forgo their beloved course.

Furious shoppers form an orderly queue for one last freebie.

Furious shoppers form an orderly queue for one last freebie.

More realistically we know from all our work in the membership sector (you can read previous blogs on the topic here) that nothing speaks louder than benefits. So membership organisations fiddle with these entitlements at their peril. Tangible benefits, that have already been ‘paid for’ and thus feel free at the point of delivery, have been proven time and again to be the principle reason for signing up to membership schemes. And whilst belonging and feeling kinship with the organisation is important, it counts for little when members don’t feel they are getting value for money. So perhaps Waitrose shouldn’t be surprised at the uproar. Perhaps they aren’t. Customer comments reveal as many who are happy not to be queuing behind legions of ‘freeloaders’ as there are those miffed at the meddling with their macchiato.

Either way if they’d have used our Membership Model they would have been able to anticipate impact of the changes. Our model enables membership professionals to understand their current members, identify potential members and structure and price memberships to have the greatest appeal at the maximum revenue. You can read more about it here.

And if you’d like to avoid your own storm in a teacup simply contact us by emailing James Page to arrange a conversation (and please be reassured that unlike Waitrose we shan’t expect you to buy anything beforehand).