Feature Article - September/October 2016

A Higher Value

Top Merchandise Trends Include Premium Goods, Experiential Gifting

By Deborah L. Vence

Most industry experts concur that higher-valued or premium merchandise has increased in redemption. And, rather than selecting generic versions of products, more quality brands are being chosen for incentives.

"We are seeing that the traditional promotional products buyer is now buying premium retail merchandise instead of the decorated promotional products," said Scott Kooken, CEO of Links Unlimited, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based company that specializes in a full range of services, from product fulfillment to complete end-to-end solutions.

"So, instead of buying a generic pair of sunglasses and placing their company logo on the product, companies are purchasing a pair of Ray-Ban or Oakley sunglasses to use as an incentive for their customers and employees," he said.

Merchandise Incentives

With higher-valued items increasing in redemption, categories such as major appliances and outdoor furniture sets are redeeming better than they have historically.

"This would seem to indicate that we are seeing a trend to more of want redemption vs. the past few years seeing a need redemption," said Eric Anderson, director of sales, PMC/Almo, a Wisconsin-based company that provides brand-name consumer electronics and merchandise to the premium incentive and special markets channels.

Merchandise continues to be a steady component in incentive programs as merchandise evolves with style change, technology influence and "want," noted Joe Zanone, president of Zanone Sales and Movado Group Inc. authorized sales agent. "With all three of these in mind, lifestyle choices from personal electronics, espresso machines, and road gear to fashion-forward designs in jewelry, watches and handbags are leading the pack in terms of merchandise redemption," he said.

Zanone added that a recent IRF study found that merchandise, again, is a growing segment in the incentive arena.

"People are worn down by gift cards," he said, "and they do not have the pizzazz that opening a box with a merchandise reward has."

Another trend that has exploded is the "event." "Just as the merchandise catalogs started offering more and more choices, companies want to give their employees a choice of gifts when they come to a sales meeting, conference or a special event," said Spencer Toomey, CPIM, vice president, special markets division, Revo Sunglasses, Westport, Conn.

"The days of giving everyone the same gift is over. Now they have created an event out of giving their gifts. The employees are presented a selection of merchandise. They try them on while they are with their peers, instead of in their room by themselves; make their choice, so they are invested in the decision-making; and then are handed their gift right on the spot for instant gratification," Toomey explained. "They then spend the rest of their time at the meeting discussing their choice with their peers. The added value that you get from this is tremendous," he added.

Experts agree that experiential or event marketing is popular. "Experiential gifting is a big trend right now," said Brian Rivolta, senior vice president of sales, Incentive Concepts. "People are looking for new and unique ways to make gifting more of a memory and experience than just a gift. Gifting suites, brand experiences and team-building exercises are all ways that people are taking gifting to another level."

Most industry experts concur that higher-valued or premium merchandise has increased in redemption. And, rather than selecting generic versions of products, more quality brands are being chosen for incentives.

What's more, wellness programs have grown quickly in popularity, noted Paul Gordon, senior vice president of sales, Rymax Marketing Services Inc.

"Companies have seen the beneficial impact it has on their employees' overall well-being," he said.

"Focusing on wellness incentives, such as Garmin Vivoactiv, Caeden, Apple Smartwatch and more are changing the office culture, encouraging collaborations amongst employees to create healthier environments, while supporting one another," Gordon said. "This growing trend has not only reduced medical costs for businesses, but has significantly increased employee motivation and lowered the rate of absenteeism. It's a win-win."

People are spending more time at work, and "Between companies needing to do more with less and technology providing a way to always be connected, employees can have a hard time disconnecting from work once they are home or away," said Larry Rougas, national sales manager, photo specialty, Nikon Inc.

"It is important for employers to recognize this effort and also encourage a healthy life balance for their hard-working employees by offering incentives that help them enjoy their life and the things they are passionate about outside of work," he said.

"Cameras are a great incentive option," he added, "because they provide employees a way to capture and share the things that are most meaningful to them."

Meanwhile, other trends include: a consistent level of bid activity; inquiries for a range of budgets; more requests for customization (e.g., custom color, logo imprinting, special individual drop-ship handling at the recipient level); and longer-range and retail-savvy planning for holidays.

"Incentive buyers are asking about Black Friday earlier (June) and a desire for parity with retailers' planning cycles," noted Shelly Colla, sales manager, National Premium Incentive Group, Sony Electronics Inc.