by Leo Jakobson | November 23, 2015
With the Black Friday holiday shopping season fast approaching, it's time -- if not past time -- to start thinking about business gifts for your employees, partners and clients, to say nothing of making sure your incentive rewards catalog has the newest, best and most desired merchandise. After all, this is traditionally the busiest time of the year for people redeeming points earned through incentive, loyalty and employee recognition programs.

With that in mind, the merchandise buyers at St. Louis-based Maritz Motivation Solutions have put together some suggestions on what rewards and gifts are likely to be the best sellers of the season. 

As always, electronics will remain the top merchandise award and gift category of the holidays, says Mike Donini, a senior buyer at Maritz Motivation. He predicts that items for the connected home will be high on holiday wish lists, pointing to items like the Amazon Echo, which allows you to use voice commands on Internet-connected devices; the Belkin Wemo, which lets you switch appliances on and off from a smartphone; and Swann Cameras' wireless security cameras that can be monitored wirelessly. 

Another electronics trend he sees is more attention to colors -- specifically gold -- thanks in part to Apple's success in this regard. "Champagne gold was a big hit with the iPhone 6 and 6-plus last year, and now Apple is offering rose gold," he says. And that's not just limited to companies that attend the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every year, he adds, noting the Kitchenaid now offers its mixers in gold as well. 

Colors are also changing in the fashion and accessories segment, another popular award category for the holidays, says Cindy Hensley, a senior buyer at Maritz Motivation. While black and beige handbags were hits last year, "color is back," Hensley says, "especially marsala, like the wine." Cinch sacks and drawstring bags are looking like a big trend among designers, she adds.

Fashion and electronics have merged with fitness in the wearable tech craze, which shows no sign of letting up this year, says Lynne Watson, the Maritz Motivation buyer responsible for fitness products. "Fitbit still trumps," she says, adding that while the jury is still out on the newly released Fitbit Surge, the Charge and Charge HR versions should be popular. Which isn't to say only techy gifts will be popular. Another item on Maritz Motivation's hit list is TaylorMade's new M1 series drivers.

Toys, of course, are a category that many incentive winners redeem over the holidays. For girls, one of the most popular is GoldieBlox, a line of toys designed to leave dress-up dolls on the shelf. Created by a female engineer following a successful Kickstarter campaign, these "maker"-oriented action figures feature items like the GoldieBlox Zipline Action Figure, the Master Builder Bundle, and expansion packs with items like extra axles and connectors. Ride-on toys like the Fischer Price Power Wheels Ford Mustang or CAT Backhoe Tractor with a fully functional front loader are also expected to be popular. On the movie-related front, anything Minions-, Frozen-, and of course Star Wars-related ought to be a smash hit as well.