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Interview with Gaetano Giannetto on the state of the Gift Card Market

Functional, practical to use, and helps to provide a number of different services: these are gift cards, one of the last true innovations given to Italian consumers in recent years.

The gift card was brought to Italy by Epipoli, a leading European company responsible for the development of marketing initiatives. Found inside some of the most important retailers, gift cards give you access to products and services not normally present elsewhere, such as gym memberships, magazines subscriptions, and spa treatments.

Epipoli is not only a service provider, it’s a company that thinks about marketing and relationships among companies. Epipoli is a company that focuses on social responsibility and emphasizes honest, ethical behavior with our partners and the consumers of our products. This remains at the heart of our corporate strategy.

The concept of gift cards, and the research done into the partners that ensures the success of each project, is done exclusively by Epipoli. In 2004 the idea to bring these cards from America was born. The ability to provide added value to a network of supermarkets, while at the same time offering consumers a variety of products – all through a single card – was too good an opportunity to pass up.

How does this service work?

 It’s very easy, you just need to follow a few simple steps. Choose a card from the display inside the store and continue through the register just as you would a normal product. Make note of the PIN (the secret code that enables the card to be used only by the purchaser) and activate the card by following the instructions on the back. Nothing could be more simple and straightforward.

Gaetano Giannetto is the Chief Executive Officer of Epipoli and the editor of Tempo Economico, a monthly magazine published by Epipoli Media. With over 40 years of market presence Tempo Economico collects and distributes examples of companies with excellent performance in the area of social responsibility, from BNL and Telethon to Fondazione Operandi, and from Coop to Mediaset and Rai Utile.

It was Gaetano who believed strongly in gift cards here in Italy as an innovative method of distribution.

Below are some of his thoughts on the value of this innovative service, as well as the philosophy of the company, which focuses on the importance of social responsibility.

“The Epipoli Group invests more than 20% of our revenue in research and development. Having worked for more than 20 years between Europe and the United States – explains Giannetto – towards the end of 2004, we started to analyze and evaluate gift cards, a market that generates some of the highest growth rates in the last 10 years. Gift cards are non-bank payment cards that allow you to purchase goods or services in a network of stores, either through a company’s own stores or through a network of third-party stores (it’s already possible to find them in major retail chains). They often have the connotation of just being a gift, but they can also be used as an incentive for employees and customers. As we’ve seen in the Anglo-Saxon countries, gift cards are distributed and sold with great success throughout the largest retailers. Products and services not normally present on shelves are now given a real, physical space. Gift cards are able to attract a large amount of key customers who are already pre-disposed to make purchases”.

In the United States – continues Gaetano Giannetto – the high rate of growth from gift cards has brought penetration beyond 90% to go along with a market share between 7%-15% of expenditures, equal to an annual turnover of over $140 billion. Epipoli successfully launched this new category implementing a technological platform to manage gift cards. We also set up the main business units at major retailers with company products and services not normally found within their own assortments (ie brand clothing, travel, entertainment, and digital games and ringtones). The technological platform enables us to manage telephone (re-charge) card sales and process user payments”.

What is the forecasted expansion of this service?

“We have already planned to roll-out another 2,000 stores throughout Italy over the next twelve months. We’ve also launched the iTunes card which allows users to purchase music online. This card will be distributed in consumer electronic stores and major supermarket chains”.

What are the values and mission of Epipoli?

“The company aims to satisfy the needs of businesses by establishing strong, profitable, and lasting relationships with our customers through the implementation of innovative marketing mix models and advanced technological solutions. High moral and ethical standards represent the core of Epipoli. In fact, it’s the element that drives the company’s development, together with a strong commitment to innovative research through major investments in technology”.

Gaetano, what has your experience been like regarding the social responsibility of companies in our country? Has it been recognized as important, or perhaps even better, an added value?

Being socially responsible is a concept that can become something important or trivial depending on the company’s needs and resources. Does the company need to take into account their conduct or monitor their suppliers? Must you look only at the pollution generated or also at the social conditions in the country of production? Does opening a store create jobs or does it destroy small, local entrepreneurs? Choosing the point of view, finding the factors that weigh on one’s social responsibility is not a simple matter and can significantly alter the final result of the evaluation.

The CSR has three opposing sides:

  • Those who consider it a concern of the state or another administrative organization                                                                                        
  • Those who consider it only a means of business self-promotion to help address issues linked to the social cost of the company, to counteract “non-globalization” issues, or to bring social attention and satisfy sensitive customers about the subject                  
  • Lastly, those who consider it (still a small portion) the key that guarantees the success of businesses and helps maintain a clear, honest, and transparent relationship with customers.

My position is very clear. As the Anglo-Saxons say it is necessary to “give back to the community what we get from the market.” To operate in the name of ethics and transparency does not mean reducing determination to achieve business objectives. It is, from my point of view, the only way to exist in the market.

Consumer awareness is increasing, because of this “good” or ethical companies will be rewarded and “bad” ones will be punished. Each purchase gives the consumer voting power that reflects the overall company experience, from the product to the values.

As a result we are implementing a new project that combines the topics that we have talked about thus far. We are looking at the possibility to purchase cards that allow you to give to charity. I can’t say too much more but we’re already working on it…”


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