2018 Top Merchandise Awards

Here are some of the incentive products that are flying off the shelves this year

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As always, electronics dominated the top product categories for incentive merchants in 2018. And within the electronics category, personal audio devices and wearables remained as hot as ever.

“Apple has been phenomenally strong across the board, led by AirPods,” says Jim Valenti, director of merchandising and replenishment at Hinda Incentives

The wireless, Bluetooth-connected buds have been ultra-popular Apple accessories since they came out in December 2016. A pair comes with a storage capsule that automatically recharges the pods whenever they’re inserted, has proximity sensors so they’re easy to add to nearby Apple devices, and it’s loaded with touch controls. “Every month, by volume, they have been the top seller,” Valenti says.

Apple AirPods have quickly become a high-demand merchandise award
Apple AirPods have quickly become a high-demand merchandise award

But it’s not all about Apple. At Incentive Concepts, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II wireless noise cancelling headphones remain a top seller, according to Marketing Manager Andy Hudson. The QC 35 II is Bose’s high-end, flagship noise cancelling headphone and is available in silver and black. It’s designed not only for comfort but for the highest sound quality, and the ability to cut out the background noise that can intrude on your listening pleasure.

At Sony, the WH-1000XM3 wireless noise cancelling headphones feature Dual Noise Sensor technology for even better noise cancelling performance, along with a processor that provides great music as well as smart noise cancelling. Adaptive Sound Control can recognize when you’re walking and adjusts to make background sounds easier to hear when you want them to be. Slimmer and lighter than their predecessor, they offer 30 hours on a charge.

Beyond audio, connected devices — like Michael Kors Access Watches — are also extremely popular, says Mike Donini, senior buyer at Maritz Motivation Solutions. These hybrid watches look like analog watches, but have smartphone notifications and touchscreen functionality. Other features include customizable faces, music controls and activity and goal tracking.

In fact, activity tracking has and remains a top-selling category. “Fitbit is another category that’s very strong,” says Valenti, noting that the company’s new Charge 3 is coming out soon. Also, Fitbit’s watches are going strong. “People are looking to get into shape, and it’s a constant battle to look for the next thing that will help them lose weight,” Valenti says.

Watches continue to be a popular incentive item, as they have universal appeal, a variety of array of price points and remind the winners of their accomplishment every time they glance at their wrist. 

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Citizen's new ladies pink-faced Jolie

In 1976, Citizen introduced Eco-Drive watches, using light as a power source, the first watch company to introduce such a concept. “Today, 85 percent of our sales are in Eco-Drive watches. It’s a brand unto itself,” explains Rick Low, vice president of special markets for the Citizen brand of Citizen Watch America. Coming on strong are Citizen’s new ladies’ pink-faced Jolie watch and its men’s Promaster Tough watch with its monocoque case. 

Bulova, a company known for its history of firsts, was the first to launch a full line of ladies’ watches in 1917. The Rubaiyat heritage has been reinvented with a collection that honors its first expression of a ladies’ timepiece. 

Another Bulova collection that is gaining traction in the incentive market is the CURV collection that debuts the world’s first curved chronograph movement. Bulova’s applied design technology makes an aerodynamic statement with a refined, contoured simplicity that exactly follows the wrist. 

On the camera front, Nikon’s D5600 DSLR with a two-lens kit is a great choice, featuring a 24.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, 39-point autofocus system, and both an 18-55mm and 70-300mm zoom lens. Canon’s EOS M50 mirrorless camera offers interchangeable lenses, 4K video, DIGIC 8 image processing, and a 24.1 megapixel CMOS, as well as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. Sony’s ultra-fast Cybershot RX10 IV can autofocus in just three one-hundredths of a second and can take 24 frames per second in continuous shooting mode and 4K video. It features a 24-600mm zoom with a Zeiss lens and 20.1 megapixel resolution. Fujifilm’s retro-styled, new mirrorless X-A5 has 24.2 megapixel resolution, 4K video, and a three-inch screen that tilts up 180 degrees for taking serious selfies. 

Bulova has revisited its Rubaiyat heritage with a new collection that honors its first expression of a lady’s timepiece
Bulova has revisited its Rubaiyat heritage with a new collection that honors its first expression of a lady’s timepiece

Another top trend that’s been consistent is the popularity of products for the home. Take for instance air fryers — a new type of kitchen appliance that uses hot air to fry food. “They’re one of the hottest-selling small appliances,” says Valenti. “People love them because they do such a good job and there’s little to no oil. That’s an exploding category.”

Hinda stocks the NuWave air fryer, and Valenti says his company is selling tons of them at the moment. While air fryers are often criticized for not doing as good a job as their more conventional brethren, the NuWave air fryer uses super-heated air and ultra-fast circulation to perfectly cook all foods, it claims.

Another fantastic cooking product is the Instant Pot — a unique invention that can sauté, bake, stew, slow-cook and pressure cook. And it’s also the hottest new houseware product to come along since the George Foreman Grill, according to Donini. The Instant Pot is the sort of all-in-one device that makes cooking easy — where recipes that ordinarily take hours to prepare and cook take a fraction of that time.  

Other great cooking devices can be found in the Mr. Bar-B-Q (formerly Blue Rhino) line of outdoor grills, says Hudson. Its line of outdoor firebowls, columns, mantels and heaters will class up any outdoor space and provide enough warmth for you to continue your outdoor festivities even as the leaves turn and the air cools. Leo Jakobson and Andrea Doyle contributed reporting to this article.