. Incentive's 16th Annual Industry Roundtable: Gift Cards | Northstar Meetings Group

Incentive's 16th Annual Industry Roundtable: Gift Cards

The biggest trends affecting gift cards now

Rich Killian, Leo Jakobson, and Caroline Pidroni

Every year, Incentive gathers a group of professionals from all sectors of the motivation, recognition, and engagement business to talk about the state of the industry. This summer, 12 participants gathered at the spectacular Langham Place, New York, Fifth Avenue to discuss topics including the growing focus on return on experience (ROE) over return on investment (ROI), changing views of the impact of Millennials, and the growing attention paid to security, as well as what's happening in the merchandise, gift card, and travel awards categories. What follows are highlights of that discussion. One additional point: This conversation took place before the devastation of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, so comments in the travel section do not reflect their impact on those destinations.

This is part four of a four-part article. The other parts can be found below, and one-on-one video interviews of Roundtable participants can be found here.

• Part 1: The State of the Incentive Industry
• Part 2: Travel
• Part 3: Merchandise


Rich Killian: Walmart, Target, and Amazon are all bouncing around as No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3. Do we, as incentive providers, want to have that experience for our employees? No. We try to get away from the beer, groceries, and diapers. Do I tell my neighbor across the fence that I went and bought my beer and diapers? Do I tell him I just got a new flat-screen TV from Best Buy, come on over? I'm going to promote my new television that I just put on the wall and put a picture on Facebook

Hotel cards are big. Marriott, obviously. Best Western is the world's largest hotel chain. An award recipient has a college graduate who wants to go to Europe for a year, and knows it's going to be an experience. Are you more comfortable giving your son or daughter $2,500 in cash or would you give them a $2,500 Best Western gift card?

Brenner: You can bundle a gift card with travel programs to round out the full experience.

Sturt: We're seeing Top Golf showing up as pretty hot. That's experiential. Uber is growing.  

Killian: For 10 years or more, we were giving away plastic gift cards in incentive programs, and plastic was savvy because you weren't giving away paper certificates. With incentive programs, the ratio for digital versus plastic cards has been 50/50. This is the first year we have seen a nudge where it is going 60/40, pouring over more towards digital. I can still recognize my employee and tell everybody in the room how wonderful you are, and it will be on your email tonight instead of handing it to you. We want to do it in front of their peers, we want to add trophy value, show them that they're recognized, and thank them for being a wonderful employee.  

Athanasiou: Have you seen an uptick in the combination of digital brochures as the method of delivery for the gift card? I'm starting to see that, where the delivery is still digital but it has a personalized message from the president or the chairman, with the digital brochure as the "gift box" package.  

Sturt: Yes, and we offer both plastic and digital in our recognition programs for clients. What's interesting is, we actually still see more paper certificates because the recipients want to take it home to show their family and relive the experience. One of the things we facilitate for clients is when somebody hits a really important career milestone, we'll solicit comments from all of their peers online, and those comments will be printed into a customized, personalized booklet produced just for them. It's that tangible recognition they want.  

Digital gift cards continue to increase for us, but it's been a slower adoption. That is starting to flip now. I think we will go rapidly digital, especially for international programs -- the shipping issues of gift cards crossing boarders becomes such an issue -- and it is such a nightmare when you lose a gift card.

Killian: The question of fraud always comes up. Everyone is worried about it, but the technology is getting better, so fraud is going away. Plastic or digital, it doesn't matter.