Feature Article - September/October 2020

Motivate with Merchandise

The Impact of the Pandemic & Other Trends in Merchandise Incentives

By Rick Dandes


The far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy and the ensuing changes and safety protocols in the workplace necessitated by the virus have made incentives more important than ever.

"It is critical that employers realize the importance of ensuring that their employees and business partners feel supported, especially those working remotely," said Jeffrey Brenner, director, special markets division, corporate sales, Seiko Watch of America, and past president of the Incentive Manufacturers and Representatives Alliance (IMRA).

There is an importance to being recognized by others, Brenner said. There are customer service teams that are going above and beyond during these unusual times. They are not in their team-oriented environment anymore, and have to work independently. A good example of this, Brenner continued, is a customer service team that is now working remotely versus working in a team environment. They have to work independently in a team-oriented environment. They have to lean on each other. They must learn and use technologies, such as the virtual meetings platforms Zoom or FaceTime. Rewards can be just thank-yous for the work you are doing under these unusual circumstances. People want to be valued. They want to be appreciated. They want to be recognized.

Several members of the Incentive Manufacturers and Representative Alliance offered thoughts on trends in merchandise as incentives during the pandemic.

Right now, said Chris Harrison, national sales manager, KleerWest, "anything that has to do with home, health, home office, garden, or recreation is in very high demand. There has been such a sudden shift in our everyday lives, and people are focusing on their homes and families like never before."

Trending: At Home

The transition to a remote workforce due to COVID-19 challenges has opened up a significant category of merchandise products that are focused on deep cleaning. The need for employers and employees to feel safe at work (no matter where they are working) has made merchandise such as cleaning supplies and equipment essential. These products are practical "reward gifts" for those working remotely, out of a home office, in particular.

"Our floor care business is extremely strong," said Craig Frechette, key account manager, Bissell Homecare. "Cleanliness is top of mind as of late," he said. "As many of us are working, learning and sheltering in place amidst COVID-19, the term 'safe haven' takes on a new meaning."

People are cleaning at a higher frequency, as well as looking for deeper levels of clean than perhaps the quick-cleaning methods they used in the past, he said. Frequency of cleaning and the standards of clean have changed as well, and all of these changes provide opportunities for merchandise incentives tied to cleaning.

Right now,anything that has to do with home, health, home office, garden, or recreation is in very high demand.

People at home and businesses are cleaning their floors more often due to concerns about the coronavirus. People are vacuuming carpets more, wet cleaning hard floors more, wet cleaning carpets more, and cleaning carpet spots and stains more, Frechette said.

The "Home" category can encompass a multitude of trends. Indeed, the pandemic has changed recipients' redemption habits, said Lore Rincon, sales manager, Continental Premium Corporation. "Merchandise redemptions have shifted to things people are using while working from home and things parents can use to keep their families entertained at home."

"What we are seeing is at-home products, headphones, AirPods, drinkware—things of that nature that people can use at home is what corporations are spending money on," said Corey Wolfe, director of sales, Links Unlimited. "That's what we are noticing moving out the back door."

Since the start of the pandemic, Rincon continued, "we've seen a big spike in food, coffee-related products, cookware, bikes, scooters, headphones, family games, cleaning/sanitizing products like vacuums and deep cleaners, gaming consoles and accessories, and of course laptops and webcams."