Experiences and Personalization Drive Merchandise & Gift Card Trends

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IRF, Incentive Research Foundation
Today’s luxury is being driven by personalization rather than by labels and brands.

Today’s incentive winners are inspired by memorable experiences and personalized merchandise, according to a new report from the Incentive Research Foundation. The IRF found that 21 percent of incentive program owners will add experience-related products and gift cards that offer a variety of shopping experiences to their award portfolios in 2015.

“Many incentive travel program owners now forgo the standard merchandise pillow gifts and instead, offer robust ‘fitting experiences’ for a range of products while trip earners are on the property,” the report states. The rise of the amenity room—where winners choose their gifts, flowers and beverages for the week—is evidence of the trend. Another example might include a choice of high-end sunglasses or leather sandals at a resort destination.

Another trend highlighted in the report is personalization. Luxury today is not as much about high-end labels or brands as about building one’s personal brand. “The new economy gives us the ability to affix our personal brand through unique additions or personalization, essentially elevating the personal brand on par with the corporate brand.”

Incentive winners will be expecting the opportunity to customize their awards, whether that means a blue jeans bar, cowboy boots or leather gloves fitted to size, or custom iPad cases.

The IRF uses the phrase “new luxury” to describe the most popular awards today—electronics and open gift cards—because both can be viewed as luxuries as well as necessities. iPads and other such devices allow people to remain connected while they work, while open gift cards can be used to purchase either needed items or luxuries.

“Items that can be personalized and items that ride the line between hedonistic and security drives will be key merchandise and non-cash reward trends in 2015 and beyond,” the report concludes.

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.