Feature Article - September/October 2014

Products Unlimited

Trends in Merchandise as Incentive Awards

By Rick Dandes

The use of merchandise as awards in incentive programs has always been effective in promoting customer and employee engagement, but never more so than now, in this improving post-recession economy. And, as consumer confidence rises, it appears that the trends, in terms of redemptions for merchandise, have shifted to a desire for more luxury items, according to several incentive program consultants.

These trends all reflect the broader consumer push toward the move from essential items redeemed during the recession to the more personally indulgent items that are indicative of a stronger economy, explained Melissa Van Dyke, president, Incentive Research Foundation (IRF).

Van Dyke's assertion is supported by research released by the IRF. The list of the most commonly redeemed merchandise incentives released by the IRF is topped by luxury items like top-tier electronics, golf and jewelry.

"Exactly right," explained Paul Gordon, vice president of sales for Rymax Marketing Services in Pine Brook, N.J. "Over the last year and a half, we've noticed this rise in consumer confidence has been accompanied by a lot more luxury products being awarded. Anything that is connected to a celebrity is hot. It seems the entire universe is revolving around mass media outlets like TV's Entertainment Tonight or People magazine."

Gordon takes it one step further. "In this industry," he said, "it's now all about brands. I would not have said that 10 years ago. For us, it is almost impossible to introduce a tertiary offshoot of the program because recipients want the real deal. Fashion is still important, and always will be. But people want that luxury product. That brand name."

Not everyone feels that way, though. There appears to be some level of interest in traditional brands "that we thought the younger generation was losing interest in," noticed Greg Canose, president, Award Marketing Services, Whitehouse, N.J. Canose was surprised when Waterford Crystal, for example, did so well. "And this was cross-generational," he said. "It showed us that younger people did want it, as well as older employees and customers. Sony's products, Maui Jim sunglasses and Coleman are also doing well, and these are all established brand-name companies. Of course, all of them are trying to appeal to the younger generation. I agree that people are going toward luxury products, but we are seeing some people wanting traditional kitchenware like Corningware and Snapware as well."