Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll know that Marks & Spencer has just unveiled its new loyalty scheme, Sparks, to rapturous applause across the retail industry.
Hailed as ‘groundbreaking’ by the retailer, Sparks differentiates itself from traditional applications by rewarding both purchases and non-transactional activities, such as product reviews.
Accumulating large volumes of points will open up access to money-can’t-buy experiences, such as exclusive events and collection previews – which Marks & Spencer believes will foster a two-way relationship with their most loyal customers, tailoring the brand experience.
The retail industry has been quick to praise this new approach to customer retention, and not without reason. Our discount-driven culture has devalued promotional and price based loyalty; consumers now expect a good deal as standard. In fact, many are tired of having to make a purchase altogether to pledge their allegiance.
Instead, loyal customers are building a new role for themselves, in which their brand advocacy becomes part of the retailer’s marketing strategy. Today’s consumers don’t just feel satisfied when they’ve had a good experience – they blog about it, tweet about it, Instagram their new purchase, review the experience online, and so forth (something we discussed in our recent report about how social media can make or break customer relationships).
Smart retailers realise this and are finding ways to reward it.
However, Marks & Spencer isn’t the first. This type of non-transactional incentivisation is already being pushed hard in the hospitality industry. Starbucks, for example, has experienced tremendous success with its mobile app, which gives users custom offers, early access to new products, even enables them to pay at the same time as collecting points.
Even other retailers have forged ahead with experiential offerings for its most loyal customers. Harvey Nichols springs to mind here – the premium department store has made its entire programme mobile-based, using an app to fast track high value customers through to exclusive events and personalised privileges.
What’s seminal about Marks & Spencer’s Sparks, though, is its sphere of influence.
Regardless of the ups and downs it has weathered in recent years, M&S is a stalwart British brand, reflecting British people. Families have shopped there for generations, and trust the retailer to deliver to a certain level of quality. Therefore if Marks & Spencer are offering it, they’ll start expecting other household names to follow suit.
The battle isn’t won yet for M&S, though. Now it needs to integrate Sparks within its offering, to recognise true customer value across all channels. This is easy to do online, but it’s harder work in the store – and customers cannot feel they are being treated as a second class citizen when they choose the bricks-and-mortar route to purchase.
So in conclusion, Marks & Spencer’s loyalty scheme has the potential to ripple across the High Street, redefining how retailers value and reward their customers. But it will only truly hit the nail on the head if it’s part of a joined up omnichannel experience.