Marks & Spencer is to offer its army of small shareholders a discounted gift card instead of their dividend payment, the group said today.
The retailer has more than 190,000 private investors who together own around 30% of M&S stock – a number of whom have voiced frustration at the pace of the turnaround in its fortunes under former Morrisons boss Marc Bolland.
The new scheme will enable them to exchange their dividend pay-out to purchase a card up to the value of £1,000 at a 10% discount – so a £900 dividend payment could be swapped for a £1,000 card.
It can be used to shop in Marks’s UK stores and online. The scheme has been developed with Equinti, a company which manages shareholder registers.
Amanda Mellor, M&S group secretary, said: “Our private investors are also some of our most loyal customers and we’re continually looking at how we can best engage this important group of stakeholders.
“We’ve listened carefully to their feedback and believe that in the new Equinti scheme, we’ve identified a simple mechanic that rewards their investment in the company.”
Investors will be able to choose how much of their dividend they wish to use to buy an M&S Shareholder Card, with any remaining dividend balance paid as normal.
Equinti is to write to private shareholders over the next week to invite them to sign up by June, ahead of the next dividend payment, expected in July this year.
M&S said participation was optional and those taking part would still receive current shareholder vouchers, which are sent out each January. It said it had first revealed plans to enhance offers for its private shareholders in its 2014 annual report.
Shares in the retailer have been buffeted over the last year as clothing sales have struggled, putting pressure on chief executive Mr Bolland, though they have recovered in recent months after signs of improvement and a rise in half-year profits.
Its last full-year dividend for the year to the end of March 2014 was flat at 17p. The interim dividend announced in November was up 0.2p to 6.4p per share.
Annual profits have fallen three years in a row. A fourth quarter trading update is due on April 2 and final results on May 20.
At last year’s annual general meeting, one disgruntled shareholder told Mr Bolland: “You are a bread and butter and baked beans expert. That’s your forte. Clothing is not.”
Another said: “This must be the slowest turnaround of a ship in history.”