Feature Article - September/October 2009

Hot Merchandise Takes Center Stage

What's New & What's Hot in Incentive Merchandise

By Heather Burt Racansky

Earth Friendly

The "green" initiative is an interesting one. "Green is an evolving trend that is becoming more of a way of life," Toomey said. "However, finding incentive products that fit the green model is not as easy as people had hoped it would be."

In short, it's not that easy being green.

"Most companies understand the challenge of finding true green products, so to compensate for that, they have come up with better ways of running their programs by doing more online instead of printing catalogs and e-mailing details and results of a promotion instead of sending out printed materials," Toomey said.

Offering EnergyStar-compliant appliances and electronics is one way to make an eco-friendlier effort. Also, being mindful of the materials used in the construction and packaging of products shows eco responsibility. "We have more products that are made with recycled materials and some that have a portion of them made with recycled materials," Toomey said.

According to Brenner, "Being green is more of a way to make the customer/consumer feel as though they are contributing in a positive manner to the environment—it makes them feel good."

Making small changes contributes to a huge impact. Did you know that about a third of an average garbage dump is packaging materials? Just by switching from bubble wrap to shredded recycled paper packaging dramatically reduces what we put in landfills.

Being conscious of the environmental impact of the products we use is becoming more and more the new normal. It is expected for companies to be recycling when possible and, at the very least, to be aware of the way they are affecting the planet. And as Toomey stated, simply digitizing incentive programs, by using less paper collateral and printed materials, is a great first step toward a healthier planet.

How Refreshing

A regularly managed and refreshed program will keep participants engaged. Knowing that they can count on finding up-to-date and trendy products from a reward program encourages users to continue performing the desired behavior to earn points, long after the first reward is redeemed.

Electronics are still number one. Users want the latest gadgets, so incentive programs should stay on top of them. This category is constantly changing and evolving. Therefore, it's the one that needs the most managing. Staying abreast of the newest technologies and making sure to include new products, and to remove obsolete items, lets the participants know the program is well managed.

Lifestyle-driven items cover the practical crowd. These items can really range in value, from small accessories to appliances and furniture. However, the term "lifestyle reward" is so general and vague—it means something different to each individual. Being sure to include items that aren't necessarily luxurious, but useful for everyday life, is a safe bet when it comes to incentives.

Finally: personal accessories. Incentives are supposed to be a gift, a "thank you" for a job well done. On that note, it's important to include items that the recipient would appreciate as a gift—items that they wouldn't necessarily purchase for themselves. These types of products allow participants to spoil themselves, which is something done so seldom these days.

When it comes down to it, the biggest merchandise trend in incentives is—in any product category—product that is updated, hip and, for the most part, practical. Also, always keep in the back of your mind the green factor. Although it may not be possible to provide a 100 percent earth-friendly selection, showing participants your green effort leaves everyone feeling just a little warmer inside.

To make things easier, really get to know the target demographic. Once that is determined, product selections can be made based on geographical location, age groups, gender—dozens of factors. Within all demographics, it is important to provide a variety of reward options. A selection of quality rewards will motivate participants to earn points in order to redeem for what they want. A selection of old products and obsolete technologies, no matter how large, will have the opposite effect.