by Leo Jakobson | September 30, 2013
Every year, Incentive gathers a group of experienced professionals from every sector of motivation, engagement, and incentives to talk about the state of the industry. On June 20, 12 participants gathered at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, FL, for some sun, sand, and serious conversation. Topics this year ranged from government regulation and return on investment to gamification and the return of luxury. 

What follows is a more detailed and extended version of that discussion regarding the most in-demand incentive merchandise items.

INCENTIVE: What are the most popular products now?

PAUL GORDON, Vice President of Sales, Rymax Marketing Services: The economy changes the dynamic of what’s redeemed. So in 2008 and 2009, a lot more household products like cookware were redeemed because the economy was tight. People didn’t go out to eat as much. They weren’t traveling as much. They wanted more home-related products. What’s happening now — and I think it’s a snapshot of consumer confidence to a certain extent — is that the luxury side — aspirational but not critical products — has really started to rise as well. And so we’re seeing a lot more, whether it’s fashion or electronics.

ERIC ANDERSON, Director of Sales – Special Markets, Power Merchandising Corp./Almo: Obviously, the electronics area is always very strong, but the charge of the housewares category in the last few years has just been off the charts. It blows me away what we redeem. Delonghi Magnifica [coffee/espresso] machines that are $3,000 retail — they’re just going left and right. 

In the electronics area, digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras are very popular and flat-panel TVs are still very, very popular, as are fitness-focused products for activities like golf or hiking. Same goes for anything mobile, such as Bluetooth [devices like portable speakers]. I think you’re seeing the impact of these Millennials in these programs. 

The tablets are popular, too. We have the Sony, we have the Samsung — we don’t do the Apple [iPads] — and there are thousands and thousands of units that go out monthly. It just blows me away. 

GORDON: The iPad still rules because, as a brand, it still has the highest [brand equity]. Now the device that [Sony] has, I think, is phenomenal because — not to do a pitch — but the fact is that it has a USB port and there’s a lot more to it. But it’s going to be a little bit of a tougher sell versus Apple, which has the brand equity.

So, brand equity is really very, very important in terms of what people want and it’s easier to kind of insert those products in the programs. We offer pretty much every tablet.

LYNN RANDALL, Managing Director, Randall Insights LLC, and Education Director, Incentive Research Foundation (IRF): In the IRF “Spring 2013 Pulse Survey,” we asked about what types of merchandise are being used within award and recognition programs. First, at 61 percent, was electronics. Second, at almost 50 percent, was clothing and apparel, [followed by] golf products at 45 percent. Housewares were at 40 percent. So, the list you mentioned is exactly what we found. 

ANDERSON: I think if you go back six or seven years, housewares would have probably been 10 percent. It’s just since the economy tanked, and then it just boomed.

SHELLY COLLA, Sales Manager, National Premium Incentive Group, Sony Electronics: Sony has had a strong last three years in the [incentive] industry, with a lot of activity in casino and traditional loyalty programs. 

GORDON: One thing that has made our life a little bit more difficult though, in terms of crafting the right rewards for these programs, is pricing. The problem is that some of the people that we’ve talked to go on the Internet and they’ll say ‘I don’t understand. Why is it that XYZ has this price and your [price is higher]?’

You’re not factoring in customer service or the fact that freight is included or all the value-added things that you have. That’s made it a little bit of a tricky area in certain product categories. We know that overwhelmingly that in every program that we do, probably 65-plus percent of the rewards redeemed are electronics. And there’s very little margin. I mean that’s the reality of it.

COLLA: People have a lot more access to information and I think that, for us, it’s helping our fulfillment partners and our end users understand what it really means to use an authorized fulfillment house and explaining the technology. You can buy a piece of merchandise anywhere, on Amazon or the Web. But [we] sit down and we explain and we talked about [online incentive program management] technology. We talk about the services offered and what the value proposition is.