Merchandise is expected to remain a popular option with business incentive buyers. Data from the Incentive Research Foundation notes that the use of incentive gifts increased 68 percent in 2020, due to the pandemic and its effect on travel, and a survey by Incentive magazine suggests that this trend will continue through year end, as it found that approximately 20 percent of incentive organizers will continue to offer gifts in place of travel. Another 34 percent are unsure if they would do so over the next 18 months.

Gift preferences, the data shows, include apparel (61 percent), gift cards (59 percent), electronics (51 percent) and food and beverage items (44 percent), with luggage and leather items, sporting goods, outdoor equipment and watches also preferred by more than 20 percent of respondents. Also preferred are brand name items—by 82 percent of respondents—over generic items, and more than one in four offer catalogs and websites for recipients to choose their gift from a range of items.

As for what’s driving gift selections, Incentive’s survey found that 66 percent base the selection on price point and 60 percent on perceived value, while popular trends influence gift choices for 52 percent and ease of fulfillment is a factor for 43 percent.

Promotional products distributors are the top source of gifts for 48 percent of incentive providers, ahead of online sites (46 percent), manufacturers (36 percent), manufacturers’ special markets departments (27 percent), print catalogs (24 percent) and brick-and-mortar stores (20 percent).

The survey also notes that gift rewards also present challenges, with 75 percent of respondents noting that merchandise is not always available when needed and more than half of those polled cited frustrating reward delivery delays to recipients. These problems are expected to continue, as manufacturing delays remain a global issue.