Trends in Reward Choices
What Do Winners Really Want?
What kind of rewards do winners really want? The answer to that is a moving target that shifts with the season, the state of the economy and with general consumer trends. As a Recognition and Rewards provider, the goal is to monitor the latest trends to make sure the rewards that are offered are popular and move people to action. Because when the awards choices lose appeal, you lose the power of motivation. Brand-name merchandise, travel experiences, event tickets, digital downloads and e-gift cards are all possible through the redemption of earned points. So, which to choose?
By looking at historical data of actual redemptions, combined with a knowledge of retailing best practices and the experience of product partners, some interesting patterns emerge.
Tough Times, Easy Choices
In sifting through Dittman Incentive Marketing's own data, there are some initial trends that make sense given recent events. During the financial crisis and through the recession that followed, there was an understandable move toward using redemptions to help with everyday expenditures, as opposed to premium merchandise or travel rewards. For example, gift cards for Walmart and clothing stores were significantly more popular in 2010 and 2011. The following year marked a shift back toward the selection of more "luxury" items, particularly in the high-end electronics category. Apple, Amazon (Kindle) and Samsung were all in the Top 5 List of most ordered items in 2012, with the popularity of the iPad pushing Apple to a redemption rate four times higher than any competitive brand. This trend is expected to continue as these companies look set to release new devices featuring smart sensors and increased functionality, and as tech-enabled healthcare products gain in popularity.
Notably, during the first quarter of 2013, travel rewards broke back into the Top 10 category, with redemptions for airline and hotel brands reinforcing the transition back to more personal and extravagant redemptions.
Rewards That Keep on Giving
Digging deeper into the database, there's clear evidence that the use of e-gift cards instead of conventional plastic gift cards for redeeming awards has grown steadily. The percentage of e-gift card redemptions went from 14 percent in 2011 to 33 percent in 2012, and as high as 46 percent in the first quarter of 2013, even though the total value of gift card redemptions has remained fairly steady.
The main advantage of an e-gift card to the reward winner is instant availability?something that no doubt drove the spike in redemptions in November and December (three times the average for the rest of the year). For the provider, e-gift cards require less handling, and are therefore less prone to errors and less expensive to process.
The most popular brands are typically those with a wide range of redemption options—primarily the large box stores and broad-based online suppliers. In 2012 the Top 5 e-gift cards redeemed in the Dittman Incentive Mall were Amazon, Lowe's, JC Penny, Walmart and Best Buy.
While many of the e-cards available are for restaurant chains, these attracted a minority of redemptions. In fact, the Top 10 Brands account for 68 percent of the dollar amount redeemed, and none of these 10 were in the restaurant category.
Redeeming at Low Point Levels
Many in the incentive business have experienced the situation where a small amount of points remain unused because of their low redemption value. The solution is to add merchandise or services that can be redeemed at lower point levels. Three product areas that qualify include Redbox movie rentals, magazine subscriptions and digital music downloads.
These options allow participants to redeem points at any level, which is a positive development for incentive companies because it engages participants at an earlier stage, when they perhaps only have a few points, or have leftover points from a previous reward redemption. This gives them an incentive, so to speak, to frequently return to the online mall and find new redemption options. For the sponsoring organization, this activity ensures the program participant will continually be reminded of the reward program, and be exposed to their messaging.
Retailing & Rewards
Just like retail establishments, sales and special offers can be used to further motivate rewards winners to spend their points. Special value deals by category, discounts on merchandise sets, and seasonally themed promotions are all valid ways to boost redemptions. For instance, at the beginning of summer, offer discounts on sporting equipment or backyard merchandise, such as BBQ grills and sets. If you think like a retailer, you're more apt to provide a shopping environment that resonates with winners.
Keeping Up with the Trends
Incentive award redemptions are affected by many factors, including the state of the economy, the way people interact with reward programs, and the latest trends in merchandise. The role of incentive marketing companies is to anticipate these changes, and ensure program participants have a full range of options to meet their needs. Working closely with vendors who understand these trends is critical to success. No doubt, there'll be more shifts in redemption behavior as the year progresses.