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Italian discount network launched

February 6, 2011

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, Published: February 6 2011

As Italian families tighten their belts as their incomes fall, a group of big companies have formed a welfare network offering discounts to each other’s employees on their products and services – ranging from coffee and cocktails to bank accounts and electricity.

Launched this month, the “companies and people” network, which is set to expand, will soon bring together 15 companies with a total of more than 200,000 workers across Italy. It will provide discounts of up to 20 per cent on goods and services, with employees potentially saving several hundred euros a year.

Companies that have joined the network include De Agostini, the book publisher; Edison, the utility group; Intesa Sanpaolo, the bank; coffee company Lavazza; pay TV group Mediaset; Merck Serono, the drugmaker; drinks company Martini & Rossi; and telecoms groups Wind and Telecom Italia.

“It’s a project born of austerity,” said Alberto Perfumo, head of Eudaimon, a corporate welfare consultancy, who started putting together the network – the first of its kind in Italy – 18 months ago. “Increasing employees’ buying power is a priority.”

Consumer spending is a big weakness in the Italian economy, with many families struggling to get to the end of the month. Figures released last week by Istat, the national statistics office, revealed the first fall in 15 years in average net family incomes in the country: they dropped by 2.7 per cent in 2009, before taking inflation into account.

An association of Italian farmers said 41 per cent of families had cut back on purchases of fruit and vegetables.

The new network hopes to bring in an airline and a car producer this year, and also extend the scheme to include sharing of company-provided services such as kindergartens, said Mr Perfumo.

Giorgio Colombo, personnel director at Edison, said the project represented a good lever “to further motivate people and strengthen their sense of belonging”.

Marco Vernieri, of Intesa Sanpaolo, called the initiative “a concrete and effective example of cross-company welfare”, which provided goods and services to the bank’s workers beyond its own range.

The scheme also helps promote corporate brands, so attracting new customers, said Andrea Sianesi, associate dean of Politecnico di Milano school of management. “It’s a great idea, innovative and creating a win-win situation by increasing sales volumes and motivating employees,” he added.

Prof Sianesi predicted that parallel networks of competitors would evolve

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