The Warsaw Voice » Other » Monthly - September 21, 2005
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Shopping With Vouchers
Michal Jeziorski By Michal Jeziorski   
Consumers paying with shopping vouchers in various outlets are quite a common sight in Poland these days. Every year, some zl.1 billion worth of shopping vouchers reach customers. Vouchers are used by an increasing number of employers, including a growing number of small businesses. They are becoming a well-known and attractive product for both employees and employers.

Thevalue of the Polish shopping voucher market has remained steady at around zl.1 billion over the past three years, with gift vouchers accounting for about 80 percent of the figure. There are about 4 million voucher users in Poland at the moment. But recently premium vouchers have been particularly popular. This is linked with the fact that premium vouchers, especially e-cards, solve many problems for companies that organize promotions. Vouchers are also an excellent addition to one's salary because they are tax-free.

Premium vouchers are accepted in a large number of retail outlets in Poland, including all retail chains, hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, entertainment centers, bookstores, drugstores, clothing and shoe stores, optical stores, stores stocking household appliances and a/v equipment and many others. It is up to the customers provided with premium vouchers where they want to use them.

Three on top
The Polish voucher market is dominated by three companies, Sodexho Pass, Accor Services Polska and Bonus Systems Polska. Sodexho Pass has been in Poland since 1998. It has consistently strengthened its position over the years and today more than 2 million people use its vouchers. Sodexho Pass Polska offers three basic types of vouchers: gift vouchers for employees, premium vouchers and meal vouchers. To date, more than 2 million Poles have benefited from Sodexho Pass vouchers, which are accepted in a network of 40,000 outlets, including all hypermarkets. The company has an electronic version of the vouchers. The owner of the company is Sodexho Pass International, active in 74 countries, a world leader in managing voucher and service card systems with annual sales of 5.2 billion euros.

Accor Services Polska launched its business in 1997 as an operator of service vouchers: Ticket Restaurant, Top Premium and Top Premium Premia. The Accor group's service vouchers are used by 14 million in 34 countries. It offers food, healthcare, educational, fuel, incentive and loyalty vouchers and more. Accor companies in Poland also include Carlson Wagonlit Travel agencies, the Sofitel, Mercure, Novotel, Ibis and the Orbis hotel chain.

The newest voucher provider is Bonus Systems Polska. Active since 2002, it provides gift, premium and meal vouchers. The Bonus+ gift card is an electronic equivalent of the traditional shopping voucher. It was developed in cooperation with Kredyt Bank and MasterCard. It makes it possible to go shopping wherever the MasterCard is accepted, which means in more than 100,000 service and retail outlets across Poland. Bonus Systems Polska also offers tourist vouchers. They were developed in cooperation with Poland's largest online travel agency, SA.

Gift vouchers
Gift vouchers account for about 80-90 percent of the market. They are a specific Polish feature. Actually, the gift voucher market is not so well developed outside Poland. The value of gift vouchers financed from company social welfare funds does not increase the amount on the basis of which ZUS social insurance premiums are calculated. Such vouchers represent revenue-generating costs for the employer and they do not create a tax obligation under VAT law.

Gift vouchers are subject to a seasonal variants. They are especially popular before major holidays. Companies say the best time is Christmas and Easter, which account for a combined 60 percent of sales. In the past, the tradition of offering employees holiday bonuses involved presenting them with various souvenirs in kind. While this practice continues in many enterprises, shopping vouchers are an increasingly common solution. This is because they are beneficial to both the employee and employer.

One frequent problem is what should be offered to attract client interest. Thanks to premium vouchers, it is possible to delegate responsibility in this area to those awarded-they know best what they need at a given time. Consumers can use premium vouchers in any retail or service outlet of their choice as part of the nationwide network of outlets accepting such vouchers. When employees are allowed to make their own purchase decisions, the organizer guarantees 100-percent satisfaction instead of presenting the employee with yet another electric kettle or TV set. With the current abundance of promotions, it is actually difficult to offer an item that is really original, interesting and useful-so that many people will pay attention to it and want to join a specific campaign. Frequently, poor prize selection in promotions and loyalty programs is the cause of their failure or inefficiency.

Premium vouchers
Every company relies on contacts with commercial partners, suppliers and wholesalers. This often determines the condition and development of the company. For this reason, offering premium vouchers to decision makers in partner companies creates some kind of "loyalty" and is a nice gesture that improves mutual relations. A premium voucher also makes it possible to distinguish your best business partners and encourage new potential clients to cooperate.

Premium vouchers seem to possess the greatest prospects for development among the three segments of vouchers available on the Polish market. A premium voucher can be used either independently or as an element supporting commercial and consumer promotions. A premium voucher should be financed from the marketing budget, and the value of vouchers purchased may not exceed 0.25 percent of the company's revenue if it is to be classified as a revenue-generating cost. Premium vouchers are addressed to wholesalers that make decisions related to purchases from producers, commercial representatives, agents, salespeople, doctors, pharmaceuticals, clients and consumers. Another group are companies that support or want to support product or service sales directly-for example using premium sales.

Of course, vouchers can come in various nominal values, which makes it possible to organize a promotion with a specific value of prizes. Premium vouchers are valid for a long period of time so their holders can use them at their convenience-at the most suitable time for their budget.

Another advantage of premium vouchers is that they are VAT-free. In line with relevant regulations, individuals do not have to pay VAT in the case of services provided as part of promotions or advertising as well as prizes offered as part of premium sales. Other advantages of premium vouchers-instead of prizes in kind-include the lack of complicated logistics and warehousing.

In the case of premium vouchers, one can speak of a much smaller seasonal effect. Their sales tend to be evenly distributed throughout the year. Everything depends on company promotional activities. Every company conducts them according to its own schedule. For example, pharmaceutical companies most often use premium vouchers in the autumn when they begin to advertise intensively.

Meal vouchers
An interesting and effective solution for companies that, under occupational safety regulations, must provide their employees-working in hazardous conditions-with special meals and beverages, are meal vouchers. Instead of physical meals, these employees may be provided with meal vouchers. These regulations apply to companies where various physical work is done-construction work, work done by gophers/couriers, security guards and mailmen. The employee is not eligible for a financial equivalent for unused lunch vouchers nor can they receive change in cash when the price of the meal is lower than the nominal value of the voucher. The value of meal vouchers does not add to the amount on the basis of which ZUS social insurance contributions are calculated unless the value of the service exceeds zl.190 per month.

Despite the evident advantages for employees, interest in meal vouchers in Poland is still lower than in other countries in Europe. The first reason is the nutritional habits of Poles and their corporate culture. Poles are still a "sandwich" society that rarely leaves the office during the lunch break. Interest in meal vouchers is generally greater in companies originating from countries in which the lunch break and additional benefits from the company are part of the business organization culture. It is much more difficult to sell meal vouchers to originally Polish companies.

Unfortunately, all the voucher systems available in Poland have one fundamental drawback: they rely wholly on legal solutions created by legislators. Thus the prospects for the development of this market in Poland strictly depend on current and future regulations. Meanwhile, tax preferences for vouchers may help the economy. Most vouchers have expiration dates, so they lead to increased consumer spending and eventually boost economic growth.