How tea and cake drives loyalty at John Lewis

“I had no idea something as simple as tea and cake would be as popular as it was,” admitted Chris Bates, head of CRM & digital marketing at John Lewis, who five years ago launched the My John Lewis loyalty card for the retailer.

Speaking at the eTail Europe event in London last week, Bates described how a simple reward of tea and cake encouraged customers to visit John Lewis stores in droves.

During the loyalty pilot, the uptake was 20% – and Bates said he had never seen such a high response before as a CRM practitioner – but after the scheme went live this increased to 40% and John Lewis’ cafes were flooded by loyalty card holders demanding their tea and cake. This led to what Bates described as an “uncomfortable conversation” with the John Lewis management board about how he had managed to ruin the customer service in its cafes.

But this was very soon rectified, thanks to having a better handle on customer data. The retailer soon began offering its monthly tea and cake for higher spending customers, rather than everyone, reducing the load on the cafes.

While this loyalty treat may have surprised John Lewis café employees for a couple of days, it had a positive impact on how customers viewed the store.

Bates described how John Lewis had been pigeon-holed as a retailer for special occasions in life. “We weren’t top of mind when someone wants to just mooch around the shops on a Saturday with their friend.”

But with free tea and cake, customers were encouraged back into the store to browse.

While five years ago, John Lewis had data on around a third of its customers, thanks to the loyalty programme this has now increased to two-thirds, with the majority of regular shoppers at the department store retailer are My John Lewis members.

Bates and his team were able to provide credible evidence to the board that these shoppers came into store more often and spent more money, making the programme profitable for the retailer.

The loyalty card was also helpful at driving the retailer’s omnichannel efforts. Customers can also use the My John Lewis app to store receipts, while plans to deliver vouchers to mobile devices and go completely paperless will soon be introduced. This encourages store customers to go online, while online customers are sent to the shops tempted by treats, which also include freebies such as a tote bag, a VIP evening shopping event or early access to sales.