Three ways the new M&S Sparks loyalty card can reignite its fashion business

As M&S officially unveils its new Sparks loyalty card today (15 October), its executive director of marketing Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne told Marketing Week that the member’s club initiative will create “extraordinary results” for both its food and fashion sales.

M&S claims that Sparks, which will launch nationwide on 22 October, will go beyond the “generic” discount nature of loyalty schemes in order to offer its customers “life-enhancing” rewards.

The plastic Sparks card works by giving shoppers 10 sparks – a special non-monetary currency – for every purchase as well as for every £1 spent. There is also a 25 sparks reward for members who post product reviews and 50 sparks for customers who use the M&S sustainable Shwop service.

Subsequently, Sparks members will receive tailored offers based around their interests every fortnight, choosing which ones they exchange their sparks points for.

Sparks members who reach 3,000 points will be offered priority access, which could include a first preview of new season ranges or a chance to access in-store sales earlier than non-members. And if members reach 14,000 sparks points they will be invited into draws for special M&S events – such as a trip to an M&S South African vineyard – or invited to in-store wine and food tasting sessions.

A Sparks section will be added to the current M&S app so members can manage their membership, while there will also be a dedicated hub on the M&S website.

Bousquet-Chavanne said Sparks wouldn’t necessarily be marketed with a standalone TV ad but rather “organically embedded” into current digital and TV campaigns.

And, to further promote Sparks, M&S will run a ’14 Days of Sparks’ experiential event in store and online to promote the service, which will enter registered members into a daily prize draw.

More than just a loyalty scheme

Bousquet-Chavanne believes consumers are tiring of the current line up of loyalty schemes and says Sparks is a “ground-breaking step change”. He is keen to establish Sparks as a “new relationship model” rather than a “generic” loyalty card.

Sparks Image 1
Members of Sparks can keep track of their points and rewards through a personalised website

“People are tired of receiving untargeted, irrelevant price offers and we wanted to address this in a ground-breaking way with Sparks,” he insisted. “Loyalty is now predictably all about transactional gains and this isn’t that at all, we want Sparks to be seen as the stage to build a new relationship with our brand.”

In pursuit of international growth, M&S has been guilty of losing a local feel within its stores according to Bousquet-Chavanne. And Sparks, which will offer rewards such as in-store food tasting and previews of new fashion lines, can bring that community buzz back.

He explained: “I’m a great believer in proximity. Unfortunately global-scale brands often see a conflict between being relevant on a larger scale and being in sync with the local community. Sparks will empower store managers to get to know their customer base on a first name basis once again and that’s one of the most important KPI’s on this project.”

David Walmsley, director of M&, believes that tapping into the “gamification” trend will also help Sparks be successful. He says the Sparks registration will ensure that right from the very first reward the service is only offering rewards “truly aligned” with a consumer’s interests.

“We’ve tried to tap into the gamification trend as, for example, none of the Sparks points have monetary value,” he explains. “It allows M&S customers to see what’s around the corner – so what they will be able to eventually afford via their sparks total – and make gradual micro progressions.”

Letting customers have their say

With flagging GM sales and shareholders persistently criticising its “outdated” clothing ranges, Sparks will allow consumers to have more of a say.

Customers will be empowered to write reviews, whether negative or positive, with the promise of a 25 sparks reward. They will also get previews of upcoming clothing ranges.

Sparks, which was originally conceived in spring 2014, has seen over 100,000 members trial the process, with 600 of its most loyal customers “directly shaping” its design. M&S insists it will let customers “crowd source” ideas to determine its future direction.

“From the moment I joined M&S I realised that our data was not being leveraged properly for better connectivity and we were not able to give customers back a proper reward for engaging with us,” said Bousquet-Chavanne.

“Now with Sparks we can listen more to our most loyal customers and crowdsource their feedback to inform choices around, say, our future clothing or changing the rewards.”

Sparks Image 2
Sparks card members will get ‘priority access’ to the M&S brand

Walmsley agreed with the sentiment but described the process more as the brand looking to move away from big data.

“Big data is a cold concept. Internally we look at Sparks as something that can give us warm data – data that actually informs us about how to make the brand enrich customers’ lives,” he said.

Digital transformation

Sparks, despite its online activation, will still be a plastic-only card at launch. Its segment within the M&S app, for example, will only allow shoppers to track their point totals and records rather than allowing them to use the app in-store.

This decision has been criticised by some industry insiders. However Bousquet-Chavanne has told Marketing Week that the long-term plan is to transform Sparks into a fully digital offering.

“Ultimately my dream is that in two years or so we can do away with the plastic card and everyone is on the smartphone and a cardless payment system,” he admitted.

“We are still incumbent to a customer pulling out both a credit card and a Sparks card too, so we understand that is a big challenge but with the adoption rates of contactless, Sparks will ultimately evolve.”

But despite the challenge of convincing customers to put yet another plastic branded card in their pockets, he is confident that Sparks’ digital approach will make it a long-term winner.

Bousquet-Chavanne concluded: “The NPS scores are going to be critical to this. I want consumers to be the voice of Sparks and really talk about how the club is working for them. They must feel like we really understand them on a personal basis.

“It isn’t about old or young, this can be ageless. There is an easy registration process for the younger crowds and also the more mature. I’m confident this will create tremendous benefits for food and fashion as people build up points. Sparks, which works across all our brands, will give M&S shoppers even more incentive to buy food and clothes in a single shop.”

With its GM sales still an uncomfortable read, M&S chief executive Marc Bolland will be praying that he’s right.


‘The M&S brand should be the first port of call for the younger generation’ says its marketing chief

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