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M&S to revamp Sparks loyalty scheme – but how good are the new perks?

M&S is to relaunch its Sparks card loyalty scheme on Thursday (9 July) – it's scrapping the current points system and taking a new approach to rewards, with some customers able to get money off shopping or in-store freebies. But it's been tight-lipped on some of the details, so it's hard to know exactly how it'll compare to what's on offer now or other schemes – see full analysis on what we know so far below.

Sparks, which was first launched in 2015, is different to most other major loyalty schemes, like Nectar and Tesco Clubcard, in that shoppers' points currently give them advance access to sales and event invites as well as prize draws rather than cashback or discounts.

Now M&S has unveiled a major overhaul of the scheme, which currently has over seven million members, and it's getting rid of points altogether. Instead, shoppers will be given the chance to win money off their shop or free giveaways such as Percy Pigs every time they shop. They'll also continue to 'earn' a 1p donation for their chosen charity every time they shop and access personalised offers.

See Loyalty Points Boosting for more info on how to maximise the benefits from your shops.

How is the Sparks scheme changing?

M&S is relaunching the scheme on Thursday 9 July – here are the key need-to-knows:

  • You'll no longer collect points, or get early access to sales at certain thresholds. Under the current system, customers earn points (or 'Sparks') for certain actions, eg, you get 10 Sparks every time you shop in an M&S store. You don't spend these points, but instead when you hit a certain threshold you unlock a new benefit, eg, when you've collected 5,000 Sparks, you get early access to the M&S sale.

    Some thought this system was hard to understand, and that it wasn't clear on the different rewards on offer – M&S itself admitted customers found it "confusing". So it's now been axed altogether.

  • You'll be given the chance to get money off shopping or freebies when you shop in-store. When you buy something in an M&S and swipe your Sparks card or app, you'll be given the chance to get money off your shopping or an instant freebie.

    You WON'T get something every time, and M&S hasn't told us how your chances are calculated, or how likely you are to get something, though it's said shopping at M&S more regularly will increase your chances as you'll be swiping your card more often.

    We also don't know exactly what you'll be able to get. M&S says every week one customer in each UK store will get their entire shop free, while others will get smaller discounts on their shop or instant freebies such as Percy Pigs and Apothecary Candles, but we haven't been given full details and don't know what else you may be able to get.

  • You'll also get personalised offers – though again, details are scarce. M&S says you'll continue to get personalised offers, as Sparks customers do now, but it won't say what these are.

    M&S has said that "the more you shop, the better the offers become", so the algorithm here appears to be less random, but it's impossible to say how good it'll be.

  • You can continue to get M&S to donate 1p to your chosen charity every time you shop. As happens currently, you'll be able to generate a 1p donation for a charity you've chosen every time you use your card (in a store or online). You can choose which charity to support when you sign up to Sparks, and M&S is adding more charities to choose from – new options include The Black Curriculum, Mind and the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

  • M&S is updating its app, so you'll be able to download your Sparks card to your phone instantly. Sparks will stop automatically issuing physical cards when customers join the scheme (though if you want one you can ask, and those with physical cards can continue to use them).

    However, M&S is updating its app to allow new members to start using their Sparks card via the app as soon as they've joined the scheme – so you can apply and start shopping with it straightaway.

How good is the new scheme?

As should be clear from the need-to-knows above, there's still a lot we don't know about how it operates, including how likely you are to get a reward and what rewards will be on offer, so it's very hard to say at this stage how good the new Sparks loyalty scheme is, how it compares to others or even how it compares to the current Sparks scheme.

However, we always say you should see loyalty schemes as a bonus, rather than something to determine where you shop, and the fact that we don't have full details – plus how some rewards will be randomly allocated – makes that all the more the case here.

Don't decide to shop at M&S because it's offering a Sparks card – particularly because the benefits of the scheme are so hard to quantify.

But if you are shopping at M&S anyway and are happy to be part of a loyalty scheme – remember, retailers ultimately offer these as a marketing tool and to understand shoppers' habits – it's definitely worth signing up and seeing any freebies or discounts you get as a bonus. In particular, the way the Sparks scheme works means some of the major benefits are down to chance, so you'll have an opportunity to get them even if you aren't a regular shopper.

I have lots of Sparks points – what will happen to them?

Once the new scheme starts, the old points will no longer work, and won't be valid.

M&S says that its most loyal customers will be given a special 'thank you' gift on Thursday 9 July via the M&S app, but it won't tell us what this will be.

I have an M&S credit card – how does this affect me?

M&S Bank credit cards aren't currently linked to the Sparks scheme and that will remain the case – so there's no change and you'll continue to get any credit card rewards as normal.

What does M&S say?

Jeremy Pee, chief digital and data officer at M&S, said: "Sparks is a vital part of how we communicate with over seven million of our most engaged M&S shoppers, and we have designed this relaunch around them. With a digital first approach, it's simpler and easier to use but also builds our relationship with customers through a more personalised experience."

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