Is paper folding?


In an age of smartphones and digital solutions, are paper vouchers becoming the dinosaur of corporate gifting arena?

With so much focus on plastic and digital gift cards, paper gift vouchers can sometimes feel like the ‘poor relation’. However, research by the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association (UKGCVA) shows that paper vouchers are more than holding their own in the marketplace.

In 2011, paper accounted for 51% of B2B sales, and while increases in open-loop and closed-loop cards in the B2B space saw figures for plastic gift card sales rise above paper vouchers for the first time in 2012, paper is still accounting for a healthy 40% of the market.

In the face of increasingly sophisticated digital and plastic solutions, why have paper vouchers maintained such a strong position? Simply put, there are three main reasons, the first being that they look and handle like currency.

“Vouchers are a tangible product. Just like money, they are paper with a value attached, and that is very important in the reward and recognition space,” says Sarah Westwood of The White Company. “Redemption is straightforward and it’s usually very clear exactly what amount is being given.”

Secondly, they are a well-used and recognisable format that people feel comfortable with and most businesses can support the delivery of; and they present well in recognition scenarios.
“Paper vouchers are a very impactful way to recognise and reward employees ‘on the spot’,” says Julian Courtney of New Look Business Solutions. “You could, in theory, load £100,000 on a gift card and present it to a colleague and it would still look like a gift card. Present someone with the same amount in vouchers and it looks very impressive.”

This ease of presentation also extends into redemption situations. “A voucher can be a ‘ticket’ to an experience,” says Shaun Weston of Servisair. “When our customers hand over their vouchers, they are gaining entry into one of our lounges and accessing a relaxing, aspirational experience.”

But paper vouchers do have their disadvantages. They require secure storage and transportation, and few can be redeemed online. However, they do remain popular, particularly for certain segments of the market.

John Dove, of House of Fraser for Business, says: “There is still very much a market for paper vouchers, although we tend to find that vouchers are sought by agencies that are running a fulfillment operation on behalf of their clients. Alternatively, a company may call direct and ask specifically for paper vouchers for long-service awards.”

Vouchers don’t just appeal to the older recipient, such as long-service employees. However, it is fair to say that there is still a significant population of older, less tech-savvy employees who prefer to tangibility of paper. As that population diminishes, will there be a need for vouchers? Ask whether there is a future for paper vouchers and there is almost universal agreement that they will continue their strong performance in the short term but, longer term, their popularity is likely to decline in favour of electronic alternatives.

However, brands are starting to uncover ways to evolve paper vouchers while demand for them is still high. The White Company issues vouchers that can be activated when the client is ready to use them, removing the need for high levels of storage and transit security.

Ultimately, there is still plenty of mileage in vouchers and, for Martin Alden of Wickes for Business, it is wrong to dismiss them out of hand.

“I personally question whether we are looking a gift horse in the mouth. Everyone’s so busy thinking about digital solutions and the future, are they applying the same thought to what the customer actually wants, can support and what the end-user wants?

“Vouchers still work well in reward and recognition. Handing over a number of vouchers is a great gift, especially if the voucher brand is relevant to the recipient,” says Alden.

Have vouchers had their day or do you prefer to reward with paper over plastic and e-cards? Please share your thoughts on the subject by emailing editor@incentiveandmotivation.com

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