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by Alex Palmer | October 01, 2014
Gone are the days where an annual review and commendation for good service were enough to keep a good worker working hard. These days, frequent, almost immediate, awards have become accepted as one of the most effective ways to create a culture of engaged, motivated employees. Gift cards remain one of the best bets for these on-the-spot incentives.

Much of this shift in the timing of rewards can be attributed to generational changes. As a recent white paper from the FORUM (bit.ly/incMillennials) reiterated, Millennials respond strongly to frequent feedback and recognition, which has led to lots of smaller rewards.

Anne Jetter, director of merchant services at GiftCertificates.com, has seen a trend toward these higher frequency/lower denomination gift card rewards. "This allows a company to keep employees engaged more often, and still stay within a budget," she says, adding that retailers and restaurants (such as Macy's, Outback Steakhouse, or Bath & Body Works) are especially popular choices for spot rewards. "Receiving a timely acknowledgement from a co-worker or boss can go a long way."

Gift-card providers are meeting this demand for immediate rewards by adding technological and digital innovations that allow for faster and more meaningful delivery of the incentives.

Jetter points to her company's IncentCore platform, which allows planners to manage multiple levels of recognition, including peer-to-peer, manager-to-employee, or team-to-team. The company's Supercertificate Reward is now offered in a digital and physical format; the digital version is sold to recipients twice as often as the physical.

Rich Killian, president and founder of RK Incentives and a leading consultant on the industry's gift card segment, agrees that digital solutions are in demand. "Merchants that have eCodes are gaining sales in the B2B segment," says Killian. "We see things changing quickly. My recommendation is to get on board with one or more eCode providers. Gather as much information as possible. Find out what your competitors are doing and what they are not doing."

He adds, when targeting Millennials, some top merchants include Starbucks, iTunes, Amazon, Aeropostale, The GAP, AMC, Dell, and Domino's.

A shift to digital cards has also opened up opportunities for program growth outside the U.S. Peter Friend, president and founder of Global Hotel Card, Inc. Powered by Orbitz maintains that the biggest shift he's seen in his business is the increase in international business.

"For niche players like Global Hotel Card Powered by Orbitz the ability to offer digital fulfillment and online redemption across multiple currencies is a competitive advantage," he says.