Given the current state of uncertainty in the world, it is more important than ever to reward your employees.

By Andrea Doyle

High-end watches by Seiko Watch of America

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world as we know it with travel taking a particularly hard blow. Yet motivation must go on and many companies are turning to merchandise awards to keep employees incentivized. There is no doubt that it’s more important than ever to recognize your employees and standout performers and the properly selected merchandise rewards do just that. 

The Incentive Research Foundation reports that there has been a significant increase in not only merchandise but also gift boxes full of logo’d merchandise as well. In a survey, the IRF says nearly 42 percent of respondents who have postponed incentive travel are using alternative means to recognize or celebrate their award winners in the interim. 

So what products are particularly popular today? “Those that are focused on the home as most are not venturing far given the current pandemic. The best motivators are high-end and unique and create an experience the recipient will remember and greatly appreciate. That is what truly motivates,” says Jeffrey Brenner, director, special markets and military, Seiko Watch of America and member of the executive board of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance (IMRA).

Working From Home is the New Reality 

As more people than ever work remotely from home, it just makes sense that home products are extremely popular, like those that are focused on cooking, board games (both traditional and electronic), and technology gadgets. Also coming on strong given the current state of our world, are products to be enjoyed in the great outdoors. Think grills, firepits, bicycles, exercise equipment, camping gear and lawn care equipment. “Pitching a tent, making s’mores and enjoying quality and important family time,” Brenner suggests. “Plus, there is a renewed era of travel by car to destinations that are close to home, exploring those incredible places that have always been in our backyard.” 

For individual experiences, travel gift cards are surging with the added bonus that most do not have expiration dates. (For more on individual incentives, see sidebar.)

With people confined to homes more than ever, products that lift their spirits are proliferating. 

“With missed, cancelled or postponed business and leisure travel, ‘feel good’ items are strong motivators,” says Brenner. “The sentiment among the companies rewarding their employees is that they need to gift in some manner to offset the disappointment for a postponed or cancelled trip. These ‘feel good’ luxury items include watches, jewelry, handbags, and sunglasses; all strong replacements for missed travel and other personal luxuries.”

HP-1 ANC Over Ear headphones by Rymax


New Brands Enter Merchandise Incentive Space 

Stay-at-home orders put in place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted merchandise awards in more ways than one. 

“Employee recognition programs grew substantially as employees took on new home projects and hobbies, increased work at home efficiencies and also concentrated on their fitness. And since they had the ability to redeem for products through their employee program, they could get what they need and not incur additional expenses. At their root, employee programs are very powerful because they create trophy value and a strong positive association for the employee towards their job and company. Many of our clients are expanding these programs by creating flash incentives to drive communication and create a new energy as people work remotely,” explains Paul Gordon, senior VP of sales, Rymax. 

Another change to the merchandise incentive market is the proliferation of new brands. “Manufacturers are seeing the need for new distribution and as a result, our brand portfolio is increasing,” adds Gordon. 

Gourmet burger by Omaha Steaks

Dishing Out Recognition 

Coinciding with the popularity of home products are gourmet food products. Not only are they a reward for the recipient but for family members and friends as well because the gift is shared with others. When done right, a gourmet gift can also be an effective motivator as food has strong and often warm emotional connections. 

“We have noticed an increase in requests for gourmet food as a replacement for event gifting and company meetings. Omaha Steaks has stepped in to provide a safe and quality gift which has a positive impact on employees and clients during these uncertain times. We expect this trend to continue into the holiday business gifting season,” explains Matt Burdette, director, corporate sales and marketing, Omaha Steaks Special Markets. 

Omaha Steaks is a family-owned company that markets and distributes a wide variety of the finest-quality, USDA-approved, grain-fed beef and other gourmet foods, from their famous Filet Mignons, to succulent seafood, pork, poultry, sides, and desserts. 

The Omaha Steaks B2B team specializes in helping companies run successful motivation, promotion, and reward programs by handling all program fulfillments and supplying program support. Its incentive programs can be designed to fit every budget and all of their products are also backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. 

Do you want a gourmet shipment sent direct to a recipient’s home? There are many gourmet selections and custom packages that can also be created. And when face-to-face gatherings are back, Omaha can ship in bulk for onsite distribution. 

Even when travel is flying high, merchandise awards have the ability to motivate. “Merchandise rewards are good for the budget as the perceived value is higher than the cost and it provides long lasting trophy value,” Gordon adds.;;

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of Prevue magazine. View here

  • Article, News Coverage, Thought Leadership