by Matt Alderton | November 29, 2018
Winter might be coming, but the sun is shining on corporate incentive programs, according to the Incentive Research Foundation, which yesterday published the results of its latest industry forecast.

Titled "Industry Outlook for 2019: Merchandise, Gift Card and Event Gifting," the report is based on a survey of 500 industry professionals, a majority of whom indicated positive trends in economic optimism and incentive budgets. In fact, IRF's fall 2018 Net Optimism Index for incentive merchandise and gift card programs was 43 percent, up 21 percent from summer 2017. Average per-person spend on noncash rewards, meanwhile, is $824, "a considerable increase from prior years," according to the IRF, which attributes the increase to a bump in the number of survey respondents spending more than $5,000 per person.

"The IRF's 'Industry Outlook for 2019' reports strong optimism around noncash reward and recognition budgets in 2019, with increases in merchandise spend, gift-card spend and the number of participants earning a reward," said IRF president Melissa Van Dyke, who cautioned that not all news is good. "The study did reveal some areas of concern for program owners, such as the fact that one half of corporate respondents do not do any reporting or analysis of their noncash programs."

Still, the industry overall is buoyant, with 84 percent of industry stakeholders indicating they expect their companies to have strong financial performances in 2019. Other highlights from the survey:

•  The average merchandise-reward value is $160, and the most common rewards are logoed brand-name merchandise and electronics for corporate respondents, and sunglasses and electronics for third-party providers.
•  Branded gift cards: The average branded gift-card reward value is $100, and the most popular branded gift cards are those for use at coffee shops, followed by cards for restaurants and online retailers. More than two-thirds of respondents said they use local retailers to purchase gift cards for their programs.
•  Event gifting: The average per-attendee spending on event gifting is $210; the most likely gifts are for incentive trips, internal meetings and customer events. The IRF report is available in its entirety at the foundation's website.