Subsidies are typically provided to stimulate demand for products that have socially desirable outcomes. In the past, subsidies on goods have often been provided to the companies that produce them. Governments are increasingly seeking to bolster market forces and stimulate competition among firms by providing subsidies directly to the products’ users. These kinds of subsidies may also drive user-oriented innovation and efficiency gains. Subsidies can also play an important role when users need some initial experience in order to grasp a product’s benefits or where positive external effects exist. As consumers adapt to the new product, subsidies can be rolled back or discontinued.
Vouchers are one method by which to administer “smart” subsidies to end customers. Vouchers have the advantage as compared to cash transfers that their use is predefined, thus directing expenditure towards the specific products or services with the desired social benefits. Moreover, voucher schemes can represent a partial subsidy, which – unlike giving out products for free – allows firms to gauge user demand and willingness to pay. The level of the subsidy can subsequently be reduced over time as customers start to recognize the value of the products.