M&S has today launched its first retail loyalty scheme, 'Sparks', which enables users to earn points on spending to unlock discounts and priority access to sales. But how good is it? MoneySavingExpert.com assesses the scheme.

You can also see our Loyalty Points Boosting guide for tips and tricks to up the value of other loyalty schemes, including Tesco Clubcard, Nectar and Boots Advantage.

How do I earn points?

Members can earn the following:

  • 10 'sparks' for every purchase made across M&S's food, fashion, home and beauty range, plus 1 spark for every 10p spent. So if you spend £1.20 in-store or online at M&S, you'll get a total of 22 sparks.
  • 25 sparks for product reviews online at M&S.
  • 50 sparks when they 'Shwop' – where customers donate an old item of clothing to M&S when they buy something new, and it's then given to the charity Oxfam.

If you later decide to return an item, you'll get to keep the 10 sparks from making the purchase itself, but sparks earned on every 10p of the product's value will be taken off your balance.

How do I redeem points?

Sparks don't have a monetary value, so there's no direct cashback as part of the loyalty scheme. However, once you earn a certain amount of points, you can 'unlock' benefits. So,

  • 3,000 sparks = A preview of new season stock.
  • 5,000 sparks = 24 hours' advance access to the M&S sale.
  • 14,000 sparks = Can attend invitation-only events and masterclasses such as food tasting, shopping events and catwalk shows.
  • 17,000 sparks = Can enter competitions, such as to win a trip to an M&S South African vineyard, or to have M&S pay for your Christmas Day.

Members will also receive a personalised welcome offer and personalised offers every fortnight, such as a discount on a specific category, for example 10% off knitwear, 20% off Mexican food range, or a "value-added offer" such as an upgrade on the dine in meal deal so you receive a bottle of Prosecco rather than wine.

When you sign up to the scheme you'll be asked to list your interests, which M&S uses to generate your offers.

'This is a very different offering'

Martin Lewis, founder and editor of MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "This is an interesting play by M&S. It's launched its new loyalty scheme at a time when many firms are ditching, or at least reducing the value of theirs. Yet this is a very different offering.

"Normally these schemes are effectively a form of cashback or price reduction as points have an effective monetary value. Here the gains are mainly soft marketing incentives rather than hard cash, which means the cost to the chain will be low. 

"Some of the rewards offered are the types of things you usually see on websites like ours, which companies use to try and drive new custom. Instead, M&S is trying to retain existing loyal custom.

"As for is it worth it? Certainly if you're an M&S shopper being given early access to sales is a boon – you should get to look when there's maximum stock. Other targeted discounts can cut your costs too. However as always, even when it's free there is a cost – it's effectively the trade you give it from purchasing your data, in return for its Sparks."

M&S launches new loyalty scheme. But will Sparks hit the mark?
M&S launches new loyalty scheme. But will it 'spark' any interest?

Can I use sparks on top of the M&S credit card?

The Sparks scheme is totally separate from M&S credit cards; and those with an M&S credit card will continue to earn points shopping at the retailer as normal to earn money-off vouchers.

M&S confirms its credit cards can however be used in conjunction with Sparks cards and that additional points are available for users of both.

M&S Premium Club credit card customers and Premium Club current account customers will earn double the Sparks for their spends, while those with the standard M&S credit card and current account will earn a bonus of between 3,000 and 5,000 Sparks upon registering the card. The exact amount depends on their "current loyalty profile".

Are there any catches?

There are a number of exclusions where you can't earn sparks, for example, making payments in M&S Bank, on M&S Energy and on its made-to-measure shirt service. See the Sparks T&Cs for the full list of exclusions.

The sparks balance resets to zero on the anniversary of your registration and each year after, but despite this, M&S says you'll still get the same level of rewards reached in the previous year during this second year.

If however you don't continue the same level of spending in year two, when the points reset in year three, you'll no longer get the same level of rewards and instead have to start from scratch.

I like the sound of Sparks. How do I get it?

The Sparks loyalty card is available now from stores, and from 22 October in its franchise shops at rail and petrol stations. Once you've got the card, you need to register it online at M&S or via the M&S app to start earning sparks.

Offers and discounts will only show online or via the app; there's no option to receive offers or vouchers through the post.