by Andrea Doyle | July 21, 2016

A flat-screen television, a fine watch, or a pair of designer sunglasses will bring people years of enjoyment. But studies have found that making the process of receiving that merchandise incentive award into an experience may provide an even more enduring memory -- and so-called "merchandise bars" can provide a richer and more satisfying experience for attendees than a gift alone.


Lacoste watches motivate,
especially when in the color
of one's choice

As a result, incentive planners are embracing customized, interactive gifting experiences in a big way. According to the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), almost 70 percent of events are now incorporating some sort of brand-name merchandise experience.  

"Providing a unique gift and distributing it in a unique way creates excitement and memories that are talked about for years amongst colleagues," says Bret Williams, director of event services at Links Unlimited, a loyalty, incentive, and corporate gifting company based in Cincinnati, OH. "This disseminates throughout the company, and that ideally incentivizes the next person."


Global Gifting, a full-service
event experience company, offers
top brands like Oakley and Ray-Ban
at its custom gifting events

Hot merchandise gifting options, according to Williams, include RayBan and Oakley sunglasses, Beats by Dre headphones, Michael Kors watches, Fitbit exercise bands, Amazon Echo, Amazon tablets, and Sonos wireless speakers and home audio systems.

In general, merchandise bars involve setting up an array of products, and attendees at the event choose their favorite. This can be a number of items from a single brand -- such as different styles of sunglasses or watches -- that are generally in the same price range. Another way is to offer a wider selection of item categories -- companies like Links Unlimited can offer some or all of the items Williams mentioned.


Recipients choose their own watch
and get fitted in Bulova's Gift
in Time watch experience program

It is also important that the awards have a high perceived value, and that means a brand name. A Bulova watch -- a piece of jewelry that tells time -- fits this bill. For its Gift in Time watch experience, Bulova representatives set up a branded display from which recipients can choose their own watch and then get it fitted. Recipients try on different watches and mingle with each other as they compare different colors and styles, offering suggestions and bonding over the experience.

"It combines an element of entertainment with getting a personal choice," says Adrienne Forrest, vice president, corporate sales for New York City-based Bulova Corporation. "We have enough of a variety so everybody will find something they will like. We can also arrange to have a jeweler on site, who will fit the watchband. It offers instant gratification as the recipient can wear their new watch on site."