Feature Article - July/August 2018

Gifts Galore

Our Annual Guide to Business Gifts

By Deborah L. Vence

Companies give gifts to their partners and customers as a way to thank them for their business. What's more, business gift programs are important for keeping a company's brand name top-of-mind.

In a 2016 study from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), a cross-section of U.S. businesses confirmed that "award points, gift cards, incentive travel and merchandise are commonly used tools for firms seeking to reward and recognize their employees, sales teams, channel partners and customers."

What's more, under corporate gift spend, "The incidence of firms using non-cash rewards to thank clients, prospects and partners increased by 19 percentage points from 2013 to 2015, that's a 36 percent increase."

Business gifts are a useful tool, but it helps to have some expert advice on the most recent developments and trends, along with ideas for gifts that you can use and caveats to help avoid mistakes.

The Latest Developments

When it comes to business gift programs, "The good news is we are seeing a lot more of it!" said Warren Weaver, director of national sales, Zane's Inc., Branford, Conn.

With the addition of housewares products into his company's portfolio, Weaver said the volume at his company is increasing.

"The nice part is [that] many of these clients have used our outdoor lifestyle products for years (bikes, camping and kayaks), and now they can keep the momentum with us and switch into housewares to freshen up the gift," he said.

Scott Kooken, president and owner of Links Unlimited, a Cincinnati-based company that offers a full range of services, from product fulfillment to complete end-to-end solutions, said his company works in all sides of gift-giving, and what he's noticed is that gift-giving has moved more into premium gifts or retail brands.

"Gift-giving has evolved into a name-brand gift," Kooken said. "Instead of giving a knock-off wearable, you want to give a Fitbit; reflective of hot products in retail is hot products in gifting."

He added that "we realize the message is that these brands are available for corporate gifting, price-points-driven." For example, Amazon Echo Dot retails for $49. The S'well brand water bottle can go as low as $25. And, for $16, you can get the Tile Bluetooth tracker.

"All three of those brands are premium retail brands [that are] all good for gift-giving. They are all available," he said.

In the area of gift cards, Frank Catrone, president of Premier Product Resourcing Inc. and Premstar Incentives Inc., said the "use of gift/credit cards for international programs has reduced traditional redemptions in reward programs."

However, gift cards, when used as a way of offering products at an overseas event, can reduce the costs of shipping overseas greatly.

"A kiosk can be set up to display product, and the gift card can have a password-protected redemption site listed. The employee can simply log in and select the reward that can be drop-shipped and delivered to their home immediately," Catrone said. "This added to the fact that less staff is needed on-site, which makes doing a gifting event abroad much more affordable. The average redemption is approximately $150 MSRP."

Past research on gift cards has shown their popularity. A study released by the IRF in March 2018 showed that gift cards are a booming business, prevalent across all incentive and recognition program audiences (employees, sales, customers and channel partners), with U.S. businesses spending $24 billion annually on B2B gift cards.

Furthermore, the IRF 2018 Trends study stated that gift cards "continue to gain momentum as a key reward option in both rate and spend." The vast majority (almost 70 percent) of organizations with revenue that's more than $100 million are purchasing more than $10,000 in rewards cards annually for their sales, channel, employee and customer programs.

New Trends

Kooken reiterated that the trend he sees right now is giving the premium brand as a gift.

"What I've noticed is home automation, more of an Alexa technology, Amazon Echo and the whole Echo family," he said.

"What we see as the trend in gifts being given home automation is coming in. The other would be vacuum insulated bottles, such as S'well, Hydro Flask, CamelBak. Those are good retail brands. And, it's a great, great gift. These are not expensive. People can have more than one of them. Wherever you are, [there are] insulated bottles everywhere ," he added.

The incidence of firms using non-cash rewards to thank clients, prospects and partners increased by 19 percentage points from 2013 to 2015, a 36 percent increase.

Meanwhile, Weaver noted that his company is doing "quite a bit of cutlery with company logos, often in single pieces that over the years will develop into a full set of knives for the customers that continue working with these clients. It's a nice continuity deal that makes it easy for everyone to develop year[s] of gifts that are meaningful and useful."

Name-brand goods are the best-redeeming products. "With cell phones and technology taking over, watch sales have reduced," Catrone said. "Household goods and luxury items such as sunglasses, jewelry, handbags, electronics and cutlery items have been on the increase."