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10 Trends in Incentive Merchandise and Gift Cards

New research conducted by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) reveals that merchandise and gift card programs play a key role in retaining top performers, which is a top priority for organizations looking to keep leaders who can take over top jobs in the coming decade.

Highlights of the report—10 Trends for Merchandise and Gift Card Programs in 2015—include:

  1. Positive Impact on Program Design. Fewer organizations believe economic conditions are having a negative impact on incentive programs. This positive state bodes well for merchandise and gift card programs in the coming year.
  2. Budgets Trending Up. Nearly 50 per cent of planners polled in fall 2014 said they’ll be increasing their budgets. In addition, spend per person is up.
  3. Experiences Lead the Way. Different age groups are looking for “more robust experiences.” In response, suppliers of merchandise and gift card-based award and recognition programs must ensure the overall experience intended for each recipient is appropriate and rewarding.
  4. Limited Luxury. It’s essential to find a balance between necessity and luxury. Electronics and “open loop” gift cards are popular. Items that can be personalized and those that ride the line between hedonistic and security drives will be popular in 2015.
  5. An App in Everything. Recipients are looking for merchandise to have similar functionality as mobile devices and apps. IRF speculates that there will be a movement away from specific devices that maintain multiple applications to applications embedded in all aspects of daily life and products.
  6. Wellness is  a Booming Industry. A relatively large group of employers are using wellness rewards. As a result, the number of products used to incent wellness and the types of products labeled with wellness attributes continue to grow.
  7. Disruption as a Constant State. Merchandise and gift card programs are growing in response to the risks to programs caused by social, political and environmental unrest. IRF concludes that the trend will increase the use of reward and recognition programs, force suppliers to disclose their risk mitigation plans more readily and increase the number of organizations looking to outside partners for risk mitigation.
  8. Mobile Proliferation. Thanks to mobile device saturation, companies are allowing employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) to work. More than 50 per cent of people in a recent survey believed BYOD could serve as a retention and recruitment tool particularly with Millennials. Program communications will have to be available on multiple, mobile device platforms.
  9. CEOs Need to Attract and Retain Talent. There are more people leaving the job market than entering it. Noncash reward and recognition programs are a key tool for executives trying to motivate multiple generations and “train up” the next run of leaders.
  10. Answering the Question: “Engaged in What?” In today’s knowledge economy, successful organizations need their employees to engage in new and non-core roles. Gift cards and merchandise are strategic tools in attracting and retaining top performers.

The IRF’s goal is to increase the understanding, effective use and resulting benefits of incentives to businesses that use incentives and others interested in improving employee performance. The full report is available on

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