Marks & Spencer is planning to overhaul its shareholder incentive package to try and soften the blow of tumbling sales, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The company is working with its registrar Equiniti, the Telegraph writes, to develop retail shareholder perks that provide investors with “wider benefits that reflect their level of investment”.

M&S has offered a bundle of vouchers to shareholders for a number of years, but it is notable how few of its grocery contemporaries offer similar incentives even as small shareholders see the value of their investments plunge.

Certainly in comparison with a range of consumer-facing businesses, the grocery retailers have been a little frugal in rewarding investors with small perks.

BT, for example, offers a range of discounted products and services to shareholders; International Consolidated Airlines Group (formerly British Airways) offers discounted fares; and Next offers a 25% discount.

Offers abound in the leisure sector too, with Marston’s and Whitbread shareholders getting discounted room rates; Carnival investors receiving an on-board credit; and Merlin Entertainments shareholders benefiting from cheaper theme park tickets.

Marks & Spencers shopper

M&S is increasing its perks for shareholders

Grocery retailers and suppliers are notable absentees from the lists of companies offering these sort of perks, although it is understood Tesco has usually offered a small free gift at its AGM in the past.

The apparent lack of appreciation for longstanding shareholders was raised at Morrisons’ stormy AGM two weeks ago by one investor who suggested the company should instigate a discount card.

Outgoing chairman Sir Ian King said that the idea was unworkable in practice because of the onerous administration requirements such a scheme would entail.

The company has studied the possibility, but decided “the relative cost of what shareholders and we as a company both would receive gets out of proportion”, he said.

He did, however, confirm that Morrisons was looking at ways to incentivise shareholders over and above the dividend payment and said that Morrisons would instigate a voucher-based loyalty scheme by the end of the year that could be rolled out to reward shareholders.

The argument that the benefits of such perks are outweighed by the costs and inconvenience for the grocers does seem compelling, given the relatively small number of shareholders that would be targeted. In an era when ever-increasing pressure is being put on margin, companies are unlikely to commit to a loss-making incentive scheme however patient their shareholders have been.

They have also managed to maintain dividends despite the downwards pressure on sales. Morrisons has increased its dividend payment every year for five years, increasing the dividend per share by 60% over the period. Similarly Sainsbury ’s is up 22% over five years, while Tesco’s dividend has risen 13% over that period (though it has hardly budged for the past three years).

While analysts expect the dividend at Sainsbury’s and Tesco to dip next year, Morrisons is forecast to raise its dividend yet again despite huge pressure on sales.

The prospect of a healthy dividend is likely to be more enticing than a small book of vouchers – particularly as the power of retail investors pales in comparison to that of institutional investors.

But retailers do have a rare position in finance where a significant chunk of their shareholder base also spends money directly with them. As an M&S spokesperson said: “Many of our shareholders are also customers and we continually review how engage with them.”

The grocers have clearly got bigger fish to fry as they cope with huge structural changes in the industry. But judging by the mutinous mood at the Morrisons AGM, they might also be wise to take heed of the principle that “every little helps”.