Marks & Spencer’s reward scheme – Sparks – has always been one of the most pointless. But that could now be changing in a substantial makeover.
There aren’t really any loyalty schemes worth going out of your way to use, but if you shop regularly at the same retailer it make sense to take advantange of any rewards and discounts you can get by signing up.
Some have a very clear proposition. The ones which offer points when you spend are the clearest. Tesco Clubcard, for instance, gives you a point per £1 you spend, and that point is worth 1p. And you can then trade that up to triple value.
Others give you freebies when you shop. The MyWaitrose scheme for example gives you a free hot drink (if you bring your own cup) or a free newspaper if you spend £10.
Both are good. But the Marks & Spencer Sparks scheme, launched in 2015, hasn’t done either at all well. It’s confusing and doesn’t give you much of an incentive to use it.
There are currently seven million people signed up to Sparks, but direct feedback from 250,000 of them has led M&S to launch a new look Sparks from July 2020.
How the M&S Sparks scheme used to work
Here’s what we’ve had since 2015.
You earn points but they don’t really do anything. They might have given me early access to sales but little else. The fact that I’ve currently got 37,378 Sparks points on my account is essentially meaningless.
You sometimes get discounts but the ones I’ve used have been very few and far in between. And they’re often very specific to certain products. For example, right now I can save 10% on M&S West Country yogurts. Not something I’m bothered about.
One of the very few positives was the semi-regular 20% off code – though these haven’t been offered for a while (due understandably to lockdown).
In practice there has been very little point scanning your card unless there’s a specific voucher to use – although until writing this I hadn’t realised that M&S gave 1p to charity every time you shopped.
How the new M&S Sparks scheme will work
The new scheme launches on 9th July 2020. It’s not a complete overhaul, but it should be a lot easier to understand what you’re getting, and maybe even get your shopping for free!
No more Sparks points
The headline change is that the points are out of the window. You will no longer earn points, and existing points will disappear. But since they don’t mean much it won’t make any difference.
New Instant Rewards
Rather than have to wait for savings as you do with Tesco’s points, there will be discounts and freebies when you shop.
This seems to be split between “little thank yous” each week, such as a free pastry or pack of Percy Pigs, or “thousands of pounds to spend”.
I imagine the latter will be in the form of money off coupons, though we won’t know for sure until the scheme launches.
Update 9/7/20 – I’ve checked the app on launch and I’ve got a £5 off when I spend £5 on clothes, beauty or home. There’s also a free tote bag that can be claimed in store. Hopefully there will be more of this kind of thing!
Personalised offers will stay
The offers which currently appear on your online account or app will still be there. As I said, these can be hit and miss, but it’s worth keeping an eye on what is showing. Until now these have tended to change every couple of weeks.
These offers are personalised and switch between food, fashion and home offers. In my experience this means if you are a man, you’ll see fashion offers for men. Which is fine for me, but not for my wife. So you might want to have your own accounts in your household.
M&S say that they’ll be able to make these offers even more specific to your shopping, so the more you use the card the more likely you’ll be able to save on something you actually buy. I guess we’ll find out if this is true in the coming months.
Hopefully there will still be the occasional 20% off everything or £10 off when you spend £30 (or similar) at M&S Food vouchers. The latter in particular can be great value and stacked with other promotions such as three for £10 and so on.
It can be easy to miss these offers, so I’ll continue to share when 20% events happen (if they do), on my M&S deals page.
A chance you’ll get your shopping for free
Every week a Sparks member will get their shopping for free. You’ll obviously have to swipe your card to be in the running. And the more you shop at M&S the more chances you’ll have of winning.
Even so, it’s not a reason to shop more at Marks & Spencer as your overall chances are going to be slim.
A donation to charity when you shop
This part of the Sparks scheme completely passed me by (or I simply forgot as I seem to have selected Shelter), and it’ll continue.
So far nearly £7 million has been raised via Sparks, so that would be great to see this increase if more people use their cards.
Charities for 2020 / 21 include NHS Charities Together, MIND, RNKI, National Trust, Unicef and WWF. You can choose the one you want to get money raised via your purchases via your online account.
Digital first offers
Though you’ll still be able to get and use a physical card, M&S say they best experience will be via the app on your phone or your online account at the Marks & Spencer website.
This likely means even fewer vouchers in the post, which I know some people find frustrating, but they tended to just be the larger 20% off vouchers rather than the more regular weekly offers.
I’ve actually been using the app for years when in-store, and often it just won’t scan. Hopefully this will be rectified in the new look app, but if not the cashier can enter the card number, or show you how to do it on the self-service tills.
To get your new offers on your phone you’ll have to update the app. On your computer you’ll just need to log-in as usual.
M&S Credit card points
The points you earn if you have a Marks & Spencer Bank credit card are completely different to Sparks and won’t be affected.
If you do use one of these cards, it might not actually be the best reward credit card out there. Here’s my regularly updated guide to the best cashback and reward credit cards.
My top loyalty schemes
The best schemes really are the ones for those you use. Personally I think Clubcard is the simplest, which Nectar has got a little better but still disappoints.
Here’s more about what points are worth at the different supermarkets.