October 14, 2015 / 11:04 PM / 4 years ago

Marks & Spencer to launch 'Sparks' members club

LONDON (Reuters) - British clothing and food retailer Marks & Spencer is to launch a new members club and card scheme called “Sparks”, it said on Thursday, seeking to build a closer relationship with its customers so they spend more both in shops and online.

Customers pay for their purchases at a Marks & Spencer store in Brussels, Belgium September 4, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The national launch of Sparks on Oct. 22 follows the billions of pounds spent by M&S Chief Executive Marc Bolland on the redesign of products, stores, supply chain logistics and the firm’s website to address decades of underinvestment at the 131-year-old retailer.

Having last year shifted the M&S website from a platform provided by Amazon to one of its own, M&S now has better customer insight. That’s encouraged it to try to capitalise on its traditionally strong fanbase among UK shoppers.

“The fresh look that we have taken is a move from loyalty into a members club,” Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, M&S executive director marketing, told reporters.

“We believe the time is right for M&S to be introducing Sparks today ... But most importantly we could not have done it before.”

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters in June M&S was looking into launching the Sparks scheme.

Loyalty cards, pioneered by Tesco’s Clubcard two decades ago, are widespread throughout Britain’s retail sector.

But unlike the purely transaction-based schemes offering generic discounts run by many other chains, Sparks membership rewards M&S customers across food, fashion, home and beauty with tailor-made offers, priority access to new season previews and “sale” products, as well as invitations to special events.

For M&S shoppers who register, points — or Sparks — are awarded every time they make a purchase, for every 1 pound they spend, and every time they write a product review or donate old clothes to charity. Also, each time customers use a Sparks card, M&S will donate 1 pence to a charity of their choice.

In July, M&S reported a dip in first-quarter underlying sales in its key clothing, shoes and homeware business, a setback after a return to growth in the previous quarter raised hopes it had rediscovered a winning formula.

Shares in M&S are up nearly a quarter over the last year but have fallen 2 percent over the last week after some analysts forecast another fall in general merchandise like-for-like sales in its second quarter and cut profit forecasts.

M&S’ first half results will be published on Nov. 4.

Editing by Mark Potter

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