As good as gold and better than money. That is the main marketing thrust of the growing army of voucher-issuing companies, ranging from high street store groups to the travel trade and from brewer to bank.
They argue that vouchers have a psychological value which transcends that of cash when employed as premiums, incentives and rewards. Mere money, they contend, simply gets swallowed up in housekeeping and routine spending, leaving no pleasurable memory of a special purchase or treat.
Unlike banknotes or cheques, vouchers can cost less than their face value. If purchased in quantity, they can attract discounts from many of the issuers. Some (a minority) only charge for the vouchers after they have been redeemed. When employed in staff-incentive schemes, vouchers do not at present attract the National Insurance contributions on their value that would be the case with cash.
Many issuers track where and on what the vouchers are spent, passing the information on to promoters, if requested, so they can assess the geographical response to a campaign and what types of products or services have found most favour.
“Cash is convenient, but it is no substitute for excitement” – Graham Povey, operations director of Capital Incentives
Capital Incentives is a subsidiary of the Bank of Scotland, and issues Capital Bond multi-option vouchers, which are accepted in about 20,000 retail outlets.
“There are various reasons why cash is not the best incentive to use in a motivation programme. Vouchers have the flexibility of cash without the disadvantages. Cash has no identity and quite often it is just a line on somebody’s salary slip. Even if it is a separate cheque, it finds its way into the same bank account used for the household budget, with no thought for why it was awarded.”
He points out that the recipient of a voucher award has to make a conscious decision about how to spend it. Whatever is purchased is remembered as being the result of a particular incentive.
At Whitbread Leisure Vouchers, says general manager Bill Brown, “the appeal is to people’s lifestyle, not their shopping baskets. There is a ‘treat value'”. The vouchers can be redeemed at Whitbread’s chain of restaurants, hotels and off-licences.
According to Brown, his vouchers are in increasing use in consumer promotions. An extension is as a substitute for on-pack money-off offers, with the voucher actually printed on the pack.
One potential problem here is security. The production of most vouchers is at security printers, which specialise in banknotes and bonds. They contain complex graphics and codings, often including a hologram, both to circumvent entrepreneurial duplication on today’s sophisticated colour copiers and to enhance their perceived value.
Generally, for security and identity reasons, the voucher companies will not personalise their products with the name or logo of the brand employing them. Instead, they offer branded wallets to contain the vouchers.
The list of high street retailers providing their own vouchers is a long one. It includes Argos, Asda, Boots, Burton, CWS, HMV, House of Fraser, Kingfisher, Marks & Spencer, Next, Olympus Sports, Safeway, Sainsbury’s, SVS Storehouse (Bhs and Mothercare), Tesco and Victoria Wine.
For promoters who do not wish the offer to be tied to a specific group, there are several which, like Capital, provide multipurpose vouchers.
Virgin brings in outside partners to add further choice to its own wide-ranging, airline-to-music operations. As well as being exchangeable at some 25,000 shops and stores, the BonusBond of Grass Roots can be used to buy direct from a catalogue and there is even a helpline for sourcing difficult-to-obtain products or services. One newcomer to the field, Active Leisure, provides a long list of indoor and outdoor activities for which its vouchers can be utilised.
Argos Business Solutions offers permutations from points collection to product-specific schemes, as well as conventional vouchers for its shops and catalogue.
High Street Vouchers, part of the Park Foods group, has its own participant retailers, covering 3500 outlets. And if you are still stuck for choice, the Voucher Shop issues ‘cheques’ which are exchangeable for – yes, that’s right – vouchers.