Each week we look at two shops competing in the same sector, and review what they are offering customers: from how helpful the staff are, to the best bargains currently on offer.
Our review will be based on a visit to stores on the same high street, or online, so it will be just a snapshot of how the retailer is performing.
In order to get a better idea of which retailers are delivering and which are falling short, we would like you to tell us about your experiences of the same shops.
Some weeks, both stores we visit may do a good job, other weeks there will be one that stands out as being much better or worse. Your reviews will help us discover if this is a trend.
This week, we’ve visited sandwich chains Pret a Manger and Eat. Please continue to tell us which stores you would like us to go to.
Background First branch opened in London Victoria in 1986 by college chums Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham, who believed there was an untapped market for “proper” sandwiches without the additives and preservatives in so much fast food. In 2001, Pret controversially sold a 33% stake to burger chain McDonald’s for £50m, which was then bought out by private equity firm Bridgepoint in 2008. It now operates in the US, Hong Kong and the UK, where it has 244 UK shops – 176 of them in London – and has spawned many competitors.
The visit 8.15 am, 21 June 2012, Fleet Street, London.
What it sells Sandwiches, filled baguettes, soups, salads, sushi, fresh fruit, tea and coffee. Also, breakfast foods such as hot porridge croissants and muffins, yogurts, crisps, popcorn and fruit juices. Drinks, porridge and soups are offered in one standard size.
First impressions Not a huge shopfront with just one narrow door. Inside, it was busy with a steady stream of customers. Many of those eating in were on their laptops, thanks to free Wi-Fi, with the distraction of loud-ish pop music.
What were the staff like? Friendly and assertive. They were very much in evidence: four uniformed members of staff serving from behind the counter, as well as a manager in “mufti”. They staff seemed to recognise many customers and even knew what their regular orders were..
Best bargain I scored a latte “on the house” from the manager after asking about the chain’s short-lived and ill-fated Pret card, which allowed people to load cash on to it. Otherwise, the filter coffee seems a good deal at 99p.
What does it charge? £2.25 for hot porridge, with either honey or five berry compote; £1.99 for a latte or a flat white; £1.50 for a small orange juice and 95p for a still water (all takeaway prices without VAT). Cheapest sandwich was a tuna mayonnaise and cucumber half-baguette for £1.45. Fresh banana, 50p. Plain croissant, 99p.
Where can I pay? Eight tills with card machines. There were queues at this time but turnover was very fast and there was little waiting time.
Is loyalty rewarded? No
Lasting impressions My porridge was delicious – creamy and just the right temperature. A common gripe is the fat content and rather generous dollops of mayonnaise in the sandwiches. I think the fresh fruit is rather overpriced (and over-packaged) and I would personally like to see newspapers routinely provided for those dining in.
However, I admire the company’s attitude towards waste – all sandwiches are made on the day of purchase in a kitchen at each location (with the stated exception of a few very small outlets), and that those left unsold at the end of the day are collected by charities that provide food to the homeless.
Overall rating 8/10
The visit 8.45 am, 21 June 2012, Fleet Street, London
Background The first shop opened in October 1996 in Villiers Street, London, close to Charing Cross railway station, by Niall and Faith MacArthur, who again wanted to sell “real” food made on the premises. Now with a network of more than 100 shops in the UK, it describes itself as “a family company dedicated to quality food.”
What it sells Sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads, sushi, fresh fruit, tea and coffee. Also, breakfast foods such as toast, muffins, hot porridge, croissants, yogurts desserts and fruit juices. Offers a wider range of soups than Pret, including Vietnamese-style Pho soups, along with hot pies. Drinks, porridge and soups are offered in both small and large sizes.
First impressions It sits opposite direct rival Pod and next to another competitor, an Illy espresso bar. A sign on the window boasting “2012 winner of best coffee/sandwich shop” gives no clues as to who made the award. Inside, there are Scandinavian-style decor with low leather chairs at the front and 12 bar stools at high tables. A newspaper rack with, er, no newspapers.
What were the staff like? Three behind the counter. They were briskly efficient without being over-friendly.
Best bargain “Slim” tuna sandwich for 99p.
What does it charge? £1.49 for a small plain porridge, plus 25p for the extras – I had banana and syrup but there was also compote for the same price. £1.99 for a small latte and flat white, £1.55 for a small orange juice and 95p for a still water. £1.99 for a hot bacon buttie. Fresh banana, 55p (and not labelled – I had to ask). Plain croissant, 99p.
Where can I pay? Six tills, of which only two were in use. It was not clear where you had to order from, and I noticed a bit of a queue building for customers waiting for hot food. This shop offers contactless payment, which should save a bit of time.
Is loyalty rewarded? No, although online there is an app collaboration with mobile phone company Orange, offering free “treats”.
Lasting impressions At this time, I thought the branch should have been busier than it was. I sensed that customers had a rather annoying wait for their food, even when the staff were not exactly run off their feet. With many identical products – and prices – it seems to be a copycat version of Pret but without such good service. My porridge was watery and more like gruel than robust oats.
Neither chain is the cheapest in town, but Pret seems to offer far better service and a consistent product. It has a sense of what its customers want.
Overall rating 6/10
Two titans of the fashion retail market battled it out last week and it was a close-run race, with eventual winner Topshop clinching your poll with 41% of the vote compared to River Island’s 35%. A quarter of voters plumped for “someone else”.
This could be seen in the comments section, with redsetter1814 writing: “If in London – try Uniqlo – their jeans are really good quality and only slightly more expensive than Topshop”; and Halo572 commenting: “Neither. Cheap, ephemeral fashion tat that will last 3-6 months if you are lucky.”
But contrary to the results of the poll, River Island got a lot of love from readers, such as eowyn8: “River Island clothes is generally of a much higher quality and even occasionally a lot cheaper than Topshop.” This was echoed by Raspberries24, who wrote: “Personally I find the River Island clothes fit better, (although my River Island jeans stretched so much!) and the dresses are nicer.”
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