Employee Purchase Programs under the microscope

Among U.S. adults employed full time or with a spouse employed full time, 37% said they would be “at least somewhat likely” to use employee purchase programs for major purchases if given the opportunity, according to research published in "By The Numbers: Which Employees Use Purchase Programs and Why," a white paper by Purchasing Power LLC, a provider of e-commerce employee purchase programs. Purchasing programs give employees the opportunity to procure big-ticket items using a payroll deduction, as an alternative to credit cards.

The sluggish economy has stimulated increased employee interest in employer benefits overall. According to the 2012 MetLife 10th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, nearly half of U.S. employees (49%) said that because of the economy they are counting on their employer’s benefits program to help with their financial needs.

“Voluntary benefits are one way employers can help ease fiscal stress and help employees get back on a firmer financial footing,” said Richard Carrano, president and CEO of Purchasing Power. He called employee purchase programs “a viable, cost-effective alternative to other consumer purchase plans, such as employer discounts, layaway, rent-to-own and even credit cards, as savvy shoppers make more-informed decisions about their household purchases.”

To understand which workers are using employee purchase programs, when and what products they have a tendency to buy, Purchasing Power collected 2,091 responses among customers who placed orders from November 2011 through January 2012, producing a “demographic snapshot” of the typical user: a middle-income female, age 35 to 44, who is married with at least one child in the household.

Not just for the holidays

According to an earlier survey of Purchasing Power customers conducted in 2011, offering workers access to an employee purchase program with year-round access improves engagement with the program. Approximately 32 percent of employees used the program at least once during the course of two years, and another 65 percent used it two or more times in the same time frame.

While use of the program is highest during the holiday buying season beginning in November, fitness and recreation products are popular during January (as people make New Year’s resolutions), outdoor equipment and home furniture purchases usually hit highs during April (in anticipation of summer) and purchases for computers and electronics peak during August (as children head back to school).

Employee purchase programs have evolved into an employee benefit that appeals to distinct groups within the workforce, according to Carrano. “By 2050, the American workforce will be heavily populated with three generations: Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Z, the multi-tasking iGeneration. In preparation, forward-thinking employers are shedding the traditional concept that one benefits package fits all and, instead, are offering plans that are more meaningful to an individual based on where he or she is in life. Employee purchase programs certainly fit into that strategy,” he noted.

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