Marks and Spencer gives you the Sparks loyalty card – but is it any good?

Tesco Clubcard, Nectar, Boots Advantage, Holland & Barrett, Waitrose ….. the list of store loyalty cards goes on and on and our purses and wallets probably don’t have enough room for another piece of plastic.

However, Marks and Spencer is trying to convince us that their new Sparks card is worth getting – by pitching it as less of a loyalty card and more of an unmissable members club.  Today I want to try to discover if this is true or not.

marks and spencer loyalty card sparks

This is not a supermarket card that converts collected points into vouchers with a cash value like Nectar and Clubcard.  It is a club with four different levels of benefits and depending on your level of ‘sparks’ you can access varying rewards and experiences.

The first two levels of benefits give you priority access to the new seasons clothing preview (from 3,000 sparks) or early access to the online sale (from 5,000 sparks).

The higher two benefit levels are about events and experiences.  From 14,000 sparks you will receive invitations to special shopping events and masterclasses and from 17,000+ sparks you will have the opportunity to access experiences such as all-expenses paid trips to a M&S vineyard.

Now this sounds like a lot of points to collect before you will receive anything worthwhile – and it is.   However, from day one you will also receive money off vouchers according to your own shopping behaviour.

Every time you shop you receive 10 sparks for the transaction plus 10 sparks for every £1 you spend.  You can also receive Sparks for writing online reviews and taking part in Shwop, Marks and Spencers collaboration with Oxfam where customers donate unwanted items of clothes when buying something new for Oxfam to resell or recycle.

sparks how to

To join the club you need to pick up a card in store, register it here online and connect it to your Marks and Spencer online account (if you don’t have one, you will need to create one). Whilst registering you can also choose a charity that will receive 1p for every £1 you spend in store.

It all sounds OK so far.  However, here are some things I don’t like:

With the Sparks app you can check your Sparks balance and see personalised offers.  However the app does not replace the Sparks card.  This would have been a clever move in order to make the card more attractive to customers as you would not have to remember to bring the actual card to the shop to collect your points.  At present, only some M&S stores are able to scan the card image displayed in the app.

You must ‘opt in’ to the personalised offers suggested to you via the app or the website – a similar model to Nectar.  This requires a degree of commitment to the scheme which most busy people today simply don’t want to make. 

Your points will expire.   The website states:

“Your sparks will expire at end of your rewards year (one year from the date you joined sparks). From the start of your new year, your sparks balance will refresh, and start again from zero. Don’t worry though, we will maintain your level of benefits into the following year.”

This means that, if you earn 5,000 sparks in your first year which gets you early access to the online sale, you will retain that benefit for your entire 2nd year – even though your points will have reset to zero.

The ‘events and experiences’ appear to be allocated by prize draw.  You cannot redeem (for example) 25,000 Sparks for a trip to a M&S vineyard.  That is simply the minimum level of points required to enter a competition to win a place on a trip.

So far I am not truly convinced that Sparks has much sparkle.  The comments I read online imply that it has yet to get much traction and that the Sparks card will need some tweaks for it to be considered a club worth joining.

The amount of sparks that need to be collected in order to access the appealing benefits like masterclasses and vineyard tours seem a bit out of reach – unless M&S is a store where you do your main supermarket shopping each week.

There is also much online grumbling about the ‘personalised discount vouchers’ which appear to be relatively random and low value – although many people received a ‘£10 off a £50 food and flower shop’ one this week.  However, I do love the fact that you can support a chosen charity every time you shop.

If you are shopping a lot at Marks and Spencer it’s probably worth getting the card to pick up sparks along the way, help a charity and possibly eventually access some interesting rewards. If Marks and Spencers is not on the list of your ‘go to’ shops it probably isn’t worth the extra wear and tear on your wallet.

If you want to find out more about the Sparks card have a look at the FAQ page.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the Sparks card, especially if you think I have been unfairly critical – please give us your feedback below.  The Sparks page on the M&S website is here.

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Comments

  1. I agree with you. I’m at the lowest tier. The offers available are virtually worthless and bear little resemblance to my shopping pattern. It would help if you could exchange points for discounts at the till.

  2. I’m at the highest tier and the offers are virtually worthless, the only reason i have the card is to stop the self service till asking 3 times every day.

    I wouldnt go out of your way to get this card

  3. I like M&S and I am working my way through the £1700 of gift vouchers I bought in Dec at Tesco! I am up at around 6800 pts now – most of the offers are useless but some are ok – I got £5 off a £35 spend this weekend. I only buy a few selected food items on a regular basis and I’ve saved some money on targeted offers for those same things. I’ve had about £20 off in offers so far. Agree it’s not a great scheme but every little helps as they say!

  4. Funnily enough the way the member of staff tried to pitch it to me was ‘it’s a bit like Nectar’ which give me the clue it’s not worth bothering with. It might actually be worse than Nectar.

    I don’t like carrying cards, in London I can do almost everything with a single contactless credit card.

    I think smartphones will be the death of loyalty schemes that insist you carry a bit of plastic around.

    http://saveecrewards.co.uk/blog/apple-pay-and-nectar

  5. David Douglas says:

    Thanks for the article. It confirms what I had been thinking that it is more or less a waste of time

  6. Tesco Clubcard, Nectar, Boots are all pretty easy to understand. You spend, you earn points with an easily understood value that are straightforward to redeem.

    Sparks is just too complicated. I’ve no idea what the points are worth in practice and the offers allocated to me are unpredictable. I don’t want to have to check the website every time I go shopping just in case there is an offer that is relevant. And I would be most annoyed if I found out about an offer just after I’d been shopping.

    Sparks may reinforce loyalty amongst already loyal customers but for less frequent customers like me, it’s a big turn off.

  7. The only loyalty card I carry around is my Tesco clubcard as I shop in Tesco all the time and I get serious value from it.

    I have the Sparks card and it’s linked to my online M&S account. I like the fact that I get preview access to sales – means that I can get some decent stuff before it opens to the general public.

    One thing that annoys me about M&S though is that I constantly seem to get 20% off coupons yet collected an order the day before. I called up M&S and asked if they could apply the coupon to a recent order and give me the refund. They refused. Instead I reordered using the coupon and sent back to goods collected, wasting everyone’s time.

    • I used the 20% off coupon last year when Avios.com did the 12 pts per £ offer – I got several thousand points for a large order I placed only to have them removed again because of the 20% code. I just placed an order at the weekend via TCB which has tracked and was for 20% off but the items had the 20%’already off so you didn’t need to put in a code – hopefully TCB will pay out ok

      • OT: Liz, my wife got (and completed) a 700 clubcard points Shopper Thoughts survey today…

        1680 Avios for much less effort (or money) than many other routes…

  8. My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t link to the m&s credit card. Why make me swipe 2 cards?

  9. TGLoyalty says:

    Depends how often you shop at M&S and while its not a straight reward every time you shop it can be worth more sometimes as most offers are money off items you would probably be buying anyway

    I get some great offers and some not so great ones – just have to select them on the app before you go shopping
    All stores can enter your number from the card which is shown on the app even if they can’t scan it

  10. I too think it is totally worthless. M&S seem to think they are more important then say my bank or credit card app which I will check frequently and expect me to log in week in week out to add offers which I am not interested in at all. It would help if the Spark card masterminds would add a button, to say ” these offers are useless”. Perhaps focus on the customer thinking, rather than valuing customer data more, as less people use the card the less valuable the data becomes and the cost to have implement the idea gets written off. The points accumulation is irrelevant, I can’t do anything with them. I had one offer in the first week of 10% of sandwiches which was the only useful offer (23p off) . Perhaps instead of points it could have the amount of money I have donated to charity, at least that can be traced to my card and has a feel good factor. Quite a few people are now stopping/binned the sparks cards, who would have thought a loyalty card with 1/100th value of nectar card was a good idea? Sorry rant over.

  11. Another vote for “complete waste of time”. I do not want to keep logging in to check offers that bear little or no resemblance to my shopping pattern. A poor, complicated and ill thought out effort by M&S.

  12. Johnnycl says:

    Great article, I’d seen this advertised but hadn’t yet looked into what the scheme was.

    Certainly sound like a firm waste of time to me….it almost makes the Morisons scheme look attractive!

  13. I agree it’s almost worthless. This week I had a £10 off a £50 food spend which was useful, but then again I probably wouldn’t have gone to M&S for food shopping without it. I guess Sparks really is beneficial for M&S though, if not the customer.

    A. It kept me away from another shop for my £50 food spend and
    B. it is collecting information about my spending habits.

    Where it is utterly and completely worthless is for people like my mother in law aged 85 who are not on line so can’t choose any offers, yet is in M&S twice a week for food & clothes and is representative of their main customer base.

    • That’s my problem too. It wouldn’t be so bad if they automatically signed you up to the offers and emailed you to tell you what they are – but you need to pro-actively activate them.

  14. My offer is free drinks but apparently this is only at “Cafes” and not at “hot food on the go” – very annoying as they both serve coffee so whats the difference!

    On the other hand getting a lot of joy using Zeek to buy M&S gift vouchers at 10% discount – obv paid for via BA Amex

  15. Funnily enough I recently facebooked Marks and Spencer with some feedback.

    This is a really poor loyalty scheme, I got fed up of having to log in for “exciting offers” then getting there and the offers being totally irrelevant and completely unexciting. It’s complicated to understand the rewards and

    In my opinion, it’s really not worth the effort. It doesn’t prompt me to be loyal it irritates me so much that it has the opposite effect. It’s a wholly missed opportunity on the part of Marks and Spencer who are already too late in to the loyalty game. They could have analysed the best of the rest and enhanced it, Is this really the best they could do?

  16. M HOCKENHULL says:

    I thought the best use for me would be getting extra sparks everytime I brought something in to go into the Shwop Oxfam box but its not that simple. Firstly the box is very elusive to find in any store, usually by a till but even in a big city store eg Liverpool or Chester spread over 2 or more floors there will be only one. I think the box has gone altogether from the small town store I visit. Secondly the staff are not trained in how to actually put the Shwop points onto your receipt – I have a step by step guide written in my notebook so I can show the assistant how to do it – I had to show 2 girls how to do this in Liverpool the other week. For 50 sparks its not worth the effort.

  17. M HOCKENHULL says:

    Marks used to have a café loyalty card whereby every time you bought a hot drink you got a stamp on card and after the 10th one you got a free hot drink worth up to £2.65 (or at least I always got a medium luxury hot chocolate with mine) this card was used by everyone and was very popular. Now Marks have done away with this and they just scan your sparks card (if and when the till girl remember to ask for it or you remember to offer it) – no free drink now. Anyone who found the scheme useful might as well go Greggs and use their Greggs app or Asda café or Neros – possibly starbucks have a similar scheme

  18. Bebe Rodgers says:

    I agree that the M&S Sparks card seems to be pointless. I think it is just a marketing tool being used by the store to try to increase their customer numbers but aside from being of very little benefit to customers, the card also defeats that purpose. It seems to be the case that in order to gain in any way from this so called loyalty card, customers have to be totally committed to shopping only at M&S. That is so unrealistic an expectation; it also comes across as a kind of retail blackmail of customers ie. “you gain nothing from us unless you consistently and continuously shop with us”. It is quite an arrogant and disrespectful stance for thIs long standing and once highly respected high street retailer to take. I cannot believe that the bright sparks (pardon the pun) at M&S thought this card would work in a positive way to increase their customer numbers. No self-respecting customer likes to feel manipulated and this is basically what this Sparks card is all about – an attempt at customer manipulation. A completely pointless marketing ploy for both M&S, its customers and potential regular customers. My personal experience with my Sparks card? (yes, I recently got one just to figure it out). With 700 points gained, I was invited via e-mail to access my Sparks card account and choose a reward. I chose tea for two (worth £6 usually), clicked on ‘continue’ only to find that I had to take tea within two days or I lose the reward!. Same with the 10% discount lingerie reward – shop for lingerie within two days or lose the reward. Well…I hadn’t planned on going shopping or having tea at M&S within two days and I wasn’t going to change my mind. I don’t like blackmail of any kind and that includes the retail type. Shame on Marks and Spencer.

  19. Jennifer Tuxford says:

    Can anyone tell me how to get a free coffee now M and S have stopped stamping their cards. I was told free drinks would be linked to my Sparks card, but it hasn’t happened so far and the assistants don’t seem to know.