Our Annual Guide to Business Gifts
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.
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."
George Cassius, president, Earth Gear Corp., Brooklyn, N.Y., said drones are becoming more and more popular, noting their appearance at the National Association of Broadcasters show (NAB) in April.
"We're making up cases for drones," he said.
To boot, Cassius mentioned the popularity of photo bags. "What I'm doing is taking a photograph of who my client is. Our product takes a photograph of whatever they want to show, [the] clear part of the case on front, and promotes their brand, their image," he said.
Also, "One of the things we do is that we work with ALEON and they make aluminum luggage," he said. (ALEON provides durable aluminum luggage and business cases.) "It's the best quality of what you can get," he said.
Other trends in business gifting, Cassius noted, include luggage pieces and smart journal notebooks, as well as tracking devices.
One of the company's vendors is GO PLUG. "What that is if you can imagine a battery charger, portable, a hot item, wireless phone charger," he said. "It acts like a power pack, and has a tracking capability. You can put that in a case and give it as a gift."
Other popular business gifts include wireless headsets and electronic journals. When you open up an electronic journal, "it's got a built-in battery to charge with the charger. If your phone goes dead, plug it into your journal," he said, adding that electronics always are top picks as well as fitness equipment.
"What I use in my business is [packing] cubes little rectangular cases made out of polyester and a nylon mesh and you would put blouses and shirts in there," Cassius said. "You can put wires and cables in [it], and [they] come in sets of three. Amazon has its own brand of cubes. And most e-commerce sites are selling the cubes today. Put it in the luggage and it's nice and neat."
And, with business gifts, you can imprint company names on the products, too, such as on laptop sleeves, wireless phone chargers, etc.
When it comes to the types of gifts that are given, experts noted a few things that are popular right now, including home sound systems and cookware.
"We have done lots with bikes over the years, and that has continued today. As mentioned earlier, cookware and knives now play a major role in what we do," Weaver said. "Last year, we did a huge group of All-Clad roasting pans that were laser etched with the company logo for an end-of-year business gift for a large tech company's customers."
Kooken said when a company approaches Links Unlimited, the first thing that has to be done is to figure out the platform, and then the price point of the gifts.
For example, one of the categories doing a lot right now is headphones.
"There are all different types of headphones," Kooken said. "[It] kind of depends on what you want to get out of your headphones. Jaybird [is] for your typical fitness people; [there's] JLAB and Monster; [and as with] sunglasses, you can have more than one pair," he said.
"You get a chance to pick the wireless. It's all different types of demographics and types of activities. [The] same thing [with] gift-giving around health the S'well Bottle to work out, backpacks and duffles," he said.
"Every gift we put logos on; Google Home on backpacks. Employees use that going back and forth to work," he said, adding that luggage is a huge market as well. And then [with] some programs, gift-giving [is] at the very high end looking at Sonos, iRobot, even Amazon Echo. Those are more high-end gifts that are more name-brand retail facing."
In addition, Cassius said 3-D printers, Alexa, Google, are other typical gifts. "[It's a] huge market," he said.
He also mentioned tracking devices that you can put into luggage. "If I have to check my bag, I want to know where it's going to be, even if my luggage is on the plane. Let's say you want to know where it is at any given time; anybody who is a techie, and carries anything of importance in their luggage, even their briefcase."
What's more, Catrone said "Jewelry such as bracelets and necklaces, sunglasses, handbags, personal care, and kitchen knives with block sets," are some typical gifts. "Name brand merchandise is key to maintaining a high perceived value."
When establishing business gift programs, experts shared their ideas on what to keep in mind.
"Wide appeal helps, but it's not a must, as many clients like to be unique, but useful," Weaver said. "Timing is always an issue because the bulk of these come in the fourth quarter, and while they needed to be thinking about it in July to have product here in November, many times the call comes in a frenzy in late October. Then, we just start jumping through hoops to get it done!"
The biggest thing about the business gift program is how you are going to collect the orders. "Figure out what you are doing," Kooken said. If you want to make it nice and simple, for example, it's better to give everybody the same thing.
"I'm giving 100 gifts away. You can also offer people different colors ," he said.
Also, pay attention to attributes, and the difference between male and female sizes and different gifting opportunities. You have to pay attention.
"We build redemption websites for gifting programs," Kooken noted. "With our programs, we'll give them redemption codes. People can go into the website; [they are] throwaway websites. Pick gifts and allow a choice. It also allows [you] to pick where you want it to be shipped; the same with headphones; all different colors, through a redemption website.
"You create an experience that matches what they want. We go to a corporation, [and] figure out what they are trying to accomplish; a choice, a shopping spree. I can have headphones from Beat and B&O, fitting what people want, put gift choices up there," he said.
If there are 100 gifts to choose from, recipients can be given the redemption code. And, an e-mail can be sent out saying, "Thanks for your loyalty." "Whatever that message is and [you can] use that redemption code to redeem your gift," he said.
And, "certainly," Catrone said, "the gift must be memorable with a high perceived value. Major brands like Pandora, Ray-Ban, Kenneth Cole and Costa Del Mar are very popular. The best gifts are those that the recipient uses or wears daily and are desirable—this helps to motivate both them and their co-workers. These gifts sell and are renewed each and every year."
"What we have done as a company and put effort in, in the last three years [is] instead of gift-giving [is] turn it into an experience, Kooken said. "We also do [an] onsite gifting experience [on the] more incentive travel side of the business."
He added that top customers at a resort destination can have a gift-giving experience. "You can set up a whole area [in which] the recipients can pick out their gift," he said.
With out-of-the-box ideas, you have to consider attributes, too. You can give everybody a winter coat or jacket, for example, but everybody is a different size. You can have samples available to try on the jacket.
"Gift-giving for employees, it's a whole different mentality. It is that duffle bag, that jacket and golf bag. And, you do come into those attributes between sizes and colors," he said.
The other thing to keep in mind is that you really want the gift to be used, or you might consider gifts that will build upon each other, such as sunglasses, headphones, or the Sonos name brand as gifts.
"With a Sonos speaker, you can always have multiples. I can put one in my kid's room," he said.
In addition, Weaver said the knife (build-a-set) deal has been well received, but many clients shy away due to the amount of time it takes to build up the set for the recipient.
"For those that have the right re-occurring customer base, it works well," he said.
In addition, "Trek bikes can work well, and with our fitting and pre-build process, a client can give a really personalized gift that's very gratifying for the recipient and easy to do," Weaver said. "The beauty is it's one piece, sized to the recipient, and can include company branding without any minimums or hefty lead times. They can also get different bike types to appease any type of rider."
Cassius added that "cubes and smart luggage is where it's at, as well as built-in tracking devices. People want different things," he said.
Other ideas include "events that allow the recipient to select the reward that fits them best," Catrone noted.
"This creates a fun atmosphere, highlights the brand and provides a name brand reward. The employee remembers this year to year and tends to request this at every annual business conference," he added. "This drives the employee to reach the goal needed to get a gift/reward yearly."
Click here to see our 2018 Business Gift Guide.