Feature Article - March/April 2013

IMRA Roundtable

Examining Trends in Merchandise Incentives

By Deborah L. Vence

Perhaps it is the popularity of cooking shows or a lack of the must-have gadget (for the time being). But, for the first time in years, housewares are outpacing electronics in merchandise incentives.

This, according to leaders of the Incentive Manufacturers and Representatives Alliance (IMRA) who shared their views with Premium Incentive Products magazine about current trends and developments in merchandise incentives, as well as the advantages of merchandise incentive programs and the outlook for incentives in the future.

The sources interviewed were: Tasha Sharp, president, Sharp Incentives; Bill Martocci, president, Carlisle Sales & Marketing; Karen Renk, CAE, executive director, Incentive Marketing Association (IMA); Mike Landry, director of special markets, Tumi; and Pete Mitchell, director, b-to-b sales, Samsonite LLC.

Q: What are the newest trends in merchandise incentives?

Tasha Sharp: The trends I see with merchandise are the categories that are becoming more popular, such as housewares, toys and outdoor products. Electronics used to be No.1. But, I think housewares is giving it a run for its money. The other trend that seems to be coming back is the request for merchandise to be logoed, if possible.

Bill Martocci: It has been discussed that for the first time in years small appliances outpaced electronics. It is not surprising given the current economy and popularity of cooking shows on TV that people are expanding their palate and, therefore, their tools to create more interesting recipes. Meanwhile there is no "must have" electronic gadget, or game, that so commonly drives that market.

Karen Renk: Every aspect of an incentive program should reinforce the goals of the program and the brand of the organization. For a while, we saw many incentive programs offer participants thousands of award choices to replicate an e-retail experience. But, an incentive program is not an online shopping trip. We are now seeing a focus on "selective choice." Program organizers are providing participants with a choice of incentives from a carefully selected assortment of products that reinforce the goals of the program. How are those items chosen? Incentive professionals can provide their clients with insightful data about what products have a strong redemption history with certain demographics.

Mike Landry: I'm actually seeing the opposite in logos. There are opportunities for unlogoed merchandise with upscale brands. People are looking for brands. Unless you can do [logos] in an understated way, it tends to devalue the product. More and more merchandise is being shipped non-logoed. Luggage is always a perennial favorite category. Electronics and watches are in there, and with luggage, those are the three big ones—portable electronics, travel speakers, ear buds, things along those lines.

Pete Mitchell: For the past 12 to 18 months we have seen items for the home become more popular than ever—even surpassing electronics in many programs. There's a trend to selecting upscale appliances or other "home/hearth" items, and it's across the board with most incentive providers.