Top Gift Card Trends for 2020

Incentive's exclusive survey reveals dining/restaurant cards are the most popular.

Gift cards are highly prized rewards not just for winners, but for incentive and motivation professionals, too, according to the Gift Card IQ 2020 survey. More than 75 percent of the 146 industry professionals who responded to our online poll rated them as effective or extremely effective perks. Among other key survey findings:

Dining and restaurants were the most popular type of gifts card for rewarding employees or clients. Other popular categories were retail/department stores and entertainment. Cards for home-improvement stores were the least popular, according to those polled. 

Easy administration was the top benefit of using gift cards for rewards, cited by 64 percent of those surveyed,  followed by their broad audience appeal, flexible redemption options, the perceived value of the award and their cost-effectiveness.

According to 31 percent of the sample, companies typically spent from $1,000 to $9,999 on the rewards in 2019; only 7 percent had generous budgets of $500,000 or more. For per-person spend, $25-$49 was the most popular amount (20 percent), followed by $50-$99 (18 percent). 

Most often, respondents used gift cards as sales incentive rewards (55 percent), followed by business gifts (49 percent), service awards (46 percent) and employee engagement (45 percent). Few of those polled used them in safety or dealer-incentive programs. 

The majority of incentive and motivation pros (55 percent) buy physical cards, while 39 percent use both physical and digital versions. Just 6 percent preferred to use only digital cards or certificates. 

Deep Pockets

What is your company’s 2020 budget for all gift certificates/gift cards in incentive programs

Less than $1,000 23% 
$1,000–$9,999 31% 
$10,000–$24,999 13% 
$25,000–$49,999 6% 
$50,000–$99,999 8% 
$100,000–$249,999 8% 
$250,000–$499,999 4% 
More than $500,0007% 

Going Shopping

Where do you purchase gift certificates/gift cards used in your incentive programs?

Retailer 62% 
Online vendors 36% 
Incentive providers 32% 
Manufacturer/service provider 31% 
Reseller 7% 
Catalog 3% 
Other 6% 

Individual Spend

On average, how much do you spend on gift certificates/gift cards per recipient, per year? 

Less than $25 10% 
$25–$49 20% 
$50–$99 18% 
$100–$149 16% 
$150-$199 5% 
$200-$499 15% 
$500–$999 8% 
More than $1,000 8% 

Where to Spend

Which of the following types of gift certificates/gift cards have you purchased for your incentive programs in the past year?

Dining/restaurant 56% 
Retail/department store 42% 
Entertainment 38% 
Travel 27% 
Online merchant 25% 
Open-loop/multiple-merchant 18% 
Gas/automotive 17% 
Service/experiential (e.g. a tour) 15% 
Home improvement 14% 
Other 16% 

Swipe Versus Click

What form of gift card/certificate do you offer?

Physical card/certificate 55% 
Digital card/certificate 6% 
Both physical and digital 39% 

Spreading the Wealth

How do you use gift certificates/gift cards?

Sales incentives 55% 
Business gifts 49% 
Service awards 46% 
Employee engagement 45% 
Non-sales recognition 27% 
Spot rewards 23% 
Consumer promotion 16% 
Safety awards 14% 
Wellness programs 13% 
Other 9% 

Why Cards?

What are the primary benefits of offering gift certificates/gift cards in incentive programs?

Ease of administration 64% 
Broad audience appeal 50% 
Flexible redemption options 50% 
Perceived value 47% 
Cost effectiveness 41% 
Lasting impact with recipients 37% 
ROI tracking 13% 
Other 3% 

Cards Versus Gifts

How effective are gift certificates/gift cards compared with merchandise?

Equally as effective 28% 
Less effective than merchandise5% 
More effective than merchandise59% 
Do not use merchandise awards 5% 
Not sure 3% 
Cards Versus Cash

How effective are gift certificates/gift cards compared with cash?

Equally as effective 39% 
Less effective than cash 9% 
More effective than cash 29% 
Do not use cash 20% 
Not sure 3%