M&S could definitely benefit from a way to boost customer loyalty. Despite a recent uptick its sales of women's clothing in particular have been in the doldrums for some time, even if food has been booming. That explains why it's apparently planning to launch a loyalty card, dubbed 'Sparks', after seeing the likes of Tesco, Boots and the Co-op doing the same.
The trouble is, of course, they were all launched many moons ago. Tesco's clubcard was first trialled in 1994 and even Nectar Card, the more complex multi-retailer scheme run by Aimia (which can be used everywhere from Sainsbury's to Homebase and Ebay), came out in 2002. Launching a loyalty card now would awkwardly highlight the fact that M&S is seriously behind the curve.
The move follows the launch of Morrisons' Match & More card last year, the complexity of which was taken apart by rival discount supermarket Lidl in this amusing ad in the Sun.
An insider told Reuters that the card would focus on personalised gifts and exclusive offers, rather than the points-based systems of most other retailers. But at a time when it looks like wallets and cards are on the way out it still seems a bit old hat. M&S refused to comment on the claims, but will presumably be looking to see how well the idea is received ahead of a reported planned launch date in the autumn.
If it does go ahead, Sparks probably won't be the solution to all of the retailer's problems. But in an age where everybody is looking to massive datasets to understand their market, if M&S can convince its customers to hand over more info about their spending habits then it could be pretty useful.