M&S loyalty scheme will be ‘plastic only’ to avoid ‘risk’ of digital programme

Initially M&S will launch a traditional plastic loyalty card rather than opting for a digital scheme, according to a senior industry source, despite a host of retailers, including Harvey Nicols, recently moving to digitalise their offerings.

M&S is understood to be readying its first card-based loyalty programme for an Autumn launch having filed two trademarks for ‘Sparks’ and ‘Sparks: More For You’ with the Intellectual Property Office under the loyalty card category.

Although the upmarket retailer is keeping quiet on its plans, it has hinted that a loyalty offer is incoming. A spokesman said earlier this week: “At our recent Prelims presentation we said that being more in-touch with our customers was one of our priorities for the year ahead but we would not comment on rumour and speculation about future activity.”

However, speaking to Marketing Week today, one senior source within the technology space with knowledge of the plans said: “After the high profile failures of the costly website relaunch, M&S is too scared to take a risk with a digital loyalty scheme.”

The M&S website relaunch last year was besieged with technical issues and contributed to a sales fall at M&S.com continued of 2% for the year to 28 March.

The source added: “Sparks, if it is called that, will be plastic only and it’s a shame as it is a huge missed opportunity especially with all the big four supermarkets set to launch substantial digital loyalty offers from early 2016.

“While the rest of British retail moves forward, M&S is moving backwards and trying to cheaply imitate the MyWaitrose card.”

But rushing to mobilise loyalty isn’t always the best move according to Mark Evans, managing director at loyalty marketing specialists ICLP.

He explained: “Upmarket brands like Harrods’s show that customers predominantly and consistently want choice and that a card can still represent a much wanted status symbol.

Competing for app space on a mobile device may be even harder than achieving wallet space as the customer value proposition has to be up there with social, entertainment and other mainstream every day apps to get anywhere near the mobile homepage.”

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Mike Dennis, meanwhile, says he wouldn’t be surprised if M&S went for a plastic card.

He concluded: “I don’t think people will be surprised at M&S launching with plastic as they have a predominantly ageing customer base who do not regularly use smartphones and will find a card much easier to use.”