by Leo Jakobson | September 30, 2014

Hot Products

Houlihan: Electronics and travel are our perennial favorites. Our No. 1 redeeming item right now happens to be a [digital] movie ticket that people can redeem online. They get it delivered on their smartphone and can be standing on line and dial into their points. It's not $10 towards a movie. It's not $15. It's free admission -- no strings. I think part of it is driven by the fact that companies are spending less on a per-person basis on their recognition. What kind of little luxury can you have in your life? Going to a movie is a little luxury. It's an experience.

 Heather Abbott: [With those movie tickets] you're creating a family moment or some type of special experience at the movie theater and that's why people like it.




Borst: In 2008 and 2009 [buyers] would come to us and say, "Can you find us a leather travel wallet that looks kind of like a Tumi?" Now the economy is coming back and they're saying, "Can you get me a Tumi? Can you get me some Beats by Dre headphones?" I've noticed that the quality and the aspirational brand levels have gone up as the economy has gotten better.

Randall: The IRF Incentive Industry Trends 2014 survey found that 43 percent are redeeming for electronics, 37 percent for jewelry and watches, and 36 percent for gift cards. Other popular merchandise awards are golf items (32 percent), apparel (31 percent), housewares (30 percent), and luggage (29 percent).

 Kevin Dougherty: If people want to take a serious picture -- to take pictures of their kid running around a soccer field on Saturday morning -- they are going to be breaking out their cameras, not a mobile device.



Corley: Canon is getting back to selling imagery and memories by telling people, "If you're going to do it right, you can't do it with a mobile phone's built-in camera."

Vrba: We're finding that as long as cameras are rugged, dust-proof, and water-proof they're still relevant. And things like Go Pro [wearable video cameras] are really popular.

The Growth of Experiential Awards

Dougherty: Seiko comes [to your event] and we size watches for your participants. We talk to them about how this is a solar watch and it's clean energy. They don't have to worry about changing batteries -- we make it an experience.

Corley: We're focused on taking that fitting and truly making it an interactive experience, taking it to the next level. With Bose, there's a whole lounge environment into which you walk [to see and play with various Bose products]. You're hanging out, that evening there's an afterglow party that's DJ'ed by Bose. Then the next morning before everybody departs they get to come through and choose their gift from Bose.

Dougherty: It has to be an experience. It has to be something memorable. You create an amazing race through New York City and you have to time yourself how long it took you to get from Wall Street to Broadway and 42nd Street. It becomes a teambuilding exercise and you have this really great watch that was part of the experience.

Digital Is Coming

Abbott: We're seeing explosive growth in digital. More incentive houses are adding them to their programs either in place of plastic gift cards or in addition to them. The primary reason is there are now digital gift card distributors that offer the infrastructure for incentive houses to distribute digital gift cards without having to build it themselves.

Borst: Here's the difference that electronic gift cards have made to the incentive world: When it was merchandise-only, catalog recipients were told to wait four to six weeks to receive a reward. Then [plastic] gift cards came into play, and it was five to seven business days. Now, we're delivering rewards in less than an hour.

Travel Gift Cards

Leong-Lyons: Surprisingly, we actually are seeing more travel gift card business. The reason I say surprisingly is, when the recession hit and trips were more expensive and not as feasible for companies, our gift card and gift certificate sales started going up. What customers were telling us is, "We don't want to take that travel reward away from our high performers [but] we can't afford to take them to Dubai." The middle ground was, "Here's a gift card. Go have an experience on us." We thought that maybe as the economy started to come back that [individual travel gift card ]was going to start to come down, and it really hasn't.

Weede: At USMotivation, we have a pretty extensive travel offering in our points-based [award catalog]. Travel is a great reward that people redeem for frequently. When we look at the two top redeeming items you're going to have electronics and you're going to have travel. It's very widely received and [incentive program participants] love it, and use it.