Marks & Spencer’s new strategy to increase consumer spending at its stores
The new strategy of M&S aims at building a closer relationship with its customers so they spend more at both their shops and their online portals. Reuters

Marks & Spencer is to launch "Sparks", a new members club and card scheme, in line with its strategy to build a closer relationship with its customers. The scheme is part of the clothing and food retailer's efforts to lure shoppers back to stores as it faces tough competition from various online and high street retailers.

Through the scheme, M&S aims to break away from the loyalty cards that were pioneered by Tesco's Clubcard two decades ago which are widespread throughout Britain's retail sector, and from other loyalty schemes. The company plans to reward customers not just for how much they spend in stores but for other activities such as recycling M&S clothes at Oxfam and for writing product reviews online.

Sparks members will also be entitled to a range of promotions, previews of new season ranges or access to the M&S online sale 24 hours before other shoppers, wardrobe previews, invitations to store events, such as wine tasting, cookery master classes or catwalk shows, as well as daily prize draws.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director at M&S, said the strategy was all about increasing customers' engagement with the company. "It is not just monetary related, we are rewarding customers' M&S experiences," he said. "The fresh look that we have taken is a move from loyalty into a members club. We believe the time is right for M&S to be introducing Sparks today ... But most importantly we could not have done it before."

The national launch of the scheme on 22 October follows the billions spent on revamping 131-year-old retailer. In order to address the decades of underinvestment in M&S, its chief executive Marc Bolland redesigned its products, stores, supply chain logistics and even the firm's website.

After shifting its website from an Amazon platform to its own, M&S has gained better customer insight encouraging it to try to capitalise on its traditionally strong fan base among British shoppers.

M&S in July reported a fall in first quarter underlying sales in its key clothing, shoes and homeware business.