In the UK, department store retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) is embarking on a new style of customer relationship with the introduction of SPARKS - its new loyalty programme (called a 'members club' by M&S). Launching nationwide on October 22nd 2015, SPARKS aims to help convert customers into members who will be rewarded with more from M&S. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

M&S has taken a hard look at loyalty and designed its new Members Club in collaboration with over 600 customers. During a three month live trial phase, M&S recruited over 100,000 members to road test and refine SPARKS. Between late August 2015 and early October 2015, M&S undertook a live trial in its Wales & West region. Trial members were recruited from the customer base across 24 stores and they tested both the in-store and online SPARKS experience.

The result was a Members Club that helps M&S know its best customers even better - recognising more than just spend and going beyond generic discounts to reward members with personalised, lifestyle enhancing benefits.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Executive Director at M&S said: "Customers tell us they want to 'be part of something special' and that's exactly why SPARKS is a club. As a member you are more than a customer and you'll get the most from M&S - with tailor-made offers, priority access and invites to exclusive events. It's a two way relationship; members tell us what they enjoy, select their own tailored offers and are rewarded for sharing their views."

Through SPARKS, M&S is able to offer an extensive range of lifestyle benefits across food, fashion, home and beauty. On joining, SPARKS members are encouraged to share their interests to ensure their personal benefits reflect what they enjoy most. SPARKS has been designed as a fun and interactive experience, as members collect sparks in three key ways allowing them to regularly unlock new and exciting benefits.

Each time they shop: 10 sparks for every purchase Every time they spend: 10 sparks for every £1 spent Each time they engage: 25 sparks for a product review or 50 sparks when you Shwop

Among the benefits that members will get from SPARKS:

  • Tailor-made offers: As soon as members join, they receive a welcome offer - this could include a 10% discount on a department or a free beauty product when you buy lingerie. A tailor-made selection of offers is then sent every fortnight to choose from and, as members build more sparks they can unlock up to four tailor-made offer slots at one time.
  • Priority access: At 3,000 sparks members can begin to unlock priority access, giving members a first preview of new season ranges or the chance to shop the M&S.com sale 24 hours in advance at 7,000 sparks.
  • Exclusive events: 14,000 unlocks special invitation only events and masterclasses - from food tasting to exclusive shopping evenings with catwalk shows and at 17,000 members enter into money can't buy experience draws - such as a trip to an M&S South African vineyard to winning your Christmas Day on M&S.
  • And every time a customer shops M&S will donate a penny to the member's chosen charity, selected at registration.

The launch of SPARKS has been made possible by the recent transformation of M&S infrastructure and its in-house digital capabilities. In spring 2014, M&S moved away from an Amazon platform to launch an M&S owned and operated customer web platform. This formed part of a wider investment in the retailer's infrastructure, spanning its customer and IT systems to its logistics capabilities. This transformation also included the addition of a 360 view customer analytics platform. M&S has continued to strengthen its insight and digital in-house capabilities and by taking ownership of its web platform M&S has greater flexibility to respond quickly to emerging trends and continue to evolve its site and SPARKS offer.

Members are able to download a free M&S mobile app with which they can manage their SPARKS membership and check in daily to view their progress and unlock new benefits. The SPARKS hub can also be accessed online. Members will be able to collect sparks via M&S.com and using their SPARKS card in UK stores, including M&S franchise partners.

To kick start the launch, M&S is running '14 Days of SPARKS' in store and online between 22nd October and 4th November where every day all registered members will be entered into a free prize draw for an extra special SPARKS experience - giving a taste of the benefits available to members. Daily individual prize draws are open to all registered SPARKS members who are 18 years of age or older and a UK resident.