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While the pandemic has curtailed incentive travel, it has had an opposite
effect on gift rewards, according to the Incentive Research Foundation. The use of gifts as a
motivational reward skyrocketed by 68 percent in 2020, the organization
Incentive’s Pulse Surveys, conducted in March and May of this year,
revealed that trend is expected to continue throughout 2021; according to our
new Incentive Gift Survey, conducted in July, one in five incentive organizers
will continue to offer gifts in place of travel. Another 34 percent were unsure
whether they would do so over the next 18 months. More than half of that
combined group attributed their continued reliance on merchandise to the
lingering uncertainty about the pandemic's effect on travel.
That said, incentive travel programs are being sourced and booked again —
and 55 percent of the 102 respondents said that gifts were a key part of incentive
What are the most common problems?
Gift rewards have brought their own set of challenges, however; merchandise
was not always available when needed, according to more than 75 percent of
respondents, and more than half of those polled cited frustrating reward
delivery delays to recipients. These problems are expected to continue, as
manufacturing delays remain a global issue, according to financial press reports.
Which gifts are most commonly given?
When choosing rewards for winners, incentive organizers favor apparel (61
percent), gift cards (59 percent), electronics (51 percent) and
food-and-beverage items (44 percent) . Luggage and leather items, sporting
goods, outdoor equipment and watches were among other prizes preferred by more
than 20 percent of respondents. More than a quarter offered catalogs/websites
that allowed recipients to choose from a range of gifts. Brand-name goods are
favored over generic versions, with 82 percent of those polled considering them
very or somewhat important in their selection.
What drives gift decisions?
More than half of incentive organizers base their gift selection on price
point (66 percent) and the perceived value of the item (60 percent). Popular
trends influence the choice of gifts, according to 52 percent of those polled.
And, as availability of goods and delivery delays continue, it’s no surprise
that ease of fulfillment was a determining factor for 43 percent of
Where do planners source gifts?
Nearly half (48 percent) of incentive providers cite promotional product/ad
specialty distributor as their top source of gifts, followed by online
sites (46 percent), manufacturer’s rep/distributor (36 percent), manufacturer’s
special markets departments (27 percent), print catalogs (24 percent) and
brick-and-mortar stores (20 percent).
How are rewards being used?
More than two-thirds of incentive professionals use gift rewards to recognize
employees. Many give merchandise to thank employees (55 percent), thank clients
(50 percent), build customer loyalty (50 percent), build morale and increase
job satisfaction and boost sales (43 percent).
Who qualifies for gift rewards?
More than half of respondents cited customers and salespeople as the most
likely to receive gift rewards. More than a third rewarded non-sales personnel
with gifts and one quarter bestowed gifts on dealers and distributors. The
service and financial industries are the most frequent users of gift rewards
(each was cited by 29 percent), according to the survey, while other top
markets include pharmaceutical/health care (26 percent),
technology/telecommunications (26 percent), insurance (24 percent) and retail
How will gift budgets change?
Smallish gift budgets of less than $10,000 are in store for more than a
third of programs next year, while another 17 percent will have budgets of up
$25,000. Nearly half will have a per-person spend budget of between $50 and
$500 and 10 percent will spend more than $1000 on each recipient.
What challenges remain?
In an open question, several respondents griped about the dearth of new gift
ideas. "It's a challenge to find new and different items," said one
frustrated planner. "Gift suppliers have the same suggestions and items
year after year. When you offer a gift each year, it's hard to come up with
Still, another planner
beautifully summed up why gifts make great rewards. "Choosing the right
gift leaves long-lasting positive impressions and memories — and it generates
great PR buzz long after it's given!"