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Noncash Rewards: How to Create a Great Gifting Experience

Customs duties, shipping costs, fulfilling expectations and giving surprises—gifting is an art form.

The gifting experience is one of those tasks that people outside the industry misunderstand. Picking out beautiful items to reward hardworking people? What fun! Until customs duties upset your budget, the vagaries of international shipping leave you short of items when your guests arrive, and you have to include new and exciting gifts while still fulfilling the expectations of repeat incentive winners, some of whom no longer pack sunglasses because they know a pair will be on offer.

Times have changed since a company would buy 300 down jackets with a corporate logo and consider offering three sizes to be “personalization.” Since 2013, Maui Jim and Tommy Bahama have pioneered the popup store and fitting room for apparel, and more luxury goods companies like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany have entered the gifting arena. Unfortunately, more options can make it easier for planners to get it wrong. Tom Romine, founder and president of Cultivate Premium Corporate Gifts, calls creating a great gifting experience, “an art form.”  

Romine’s company provides gifting experiences for between 500 and 600 events a year and says it is a fine line between having too few items, having the perfect selection, and having too many choices. He says, “You want your guests to be thrilled, not overwhelmed. Also, be wary of having guests pick three items from too many because they may really want that fourth item and you are making them choose.” You want them to feel rewarded, not denied.

To Ship or Not to Ship?

 Romine’s advice is to leave the shipping to the gift company, even if a planner is already shipping other items and wants to save money by combining. He says, “It’s not a good strategy. If the paperwork isn’t perfect everything gets held up. We require our clients to let us handle the freight.”

Cultivate has warehouses and distribution partners in big international incentive destinations like Mexico so that items don’t have to be shipped overseas.

This approach also saves on customs duties which can be steep. Romine says, “A typical sunglass program for Ray Bans might cost $140 per person, but if it happens in the Dominican Republic, the import tax on each would bring the cost of a pair up to $214.”

At a recent gifting event outside the U.S., Tiffany & Co. had guests enter a gift choice and their home address on iPads and shipped the items to their homes. There are several upsides to this approach. The company only had to supply one example each of the jewelry and homewares on offer and no customs or international shipping costs were incurred. Bonus: Giftees who chose the set of crystal glasses didn’t have to squeeze them into a suitcase for the trip home. Also, unlike the watch company at the same event, the Tiffany products did not get stuck in customs making them arrive late after most guests had already finished the welcome activities. The downside to this approach is that guests have to be patient. No one wants to have to wait for a new piece of jewelry. However, if only one or two vendors use this process, it can extend the experience when the gift arrives in the mail.

The Goods

For planners, suggesting gifts to a client is an opportunity not just to reward the incentive winners, but also to burnish the client’s brand. Instead of picking the same names the winner might buy for themselves, the company can seem forward-looking by offering up-and-coming companies and products, such as OlaKai flip-flops, Chloe handbags, or Rebecca Minkoff watches.  The giftees become stylish early adopters, the client looks cool.

Another way to say thank you to incentive winners is actually to say, “thank you.” Jennifer Mazza, director of travel operations at Next Level Performance, says a personal welcome letter from the client’s CEO to each of the company’s top performers is very meaningful. She says, “It lets them know they are personally valued and recognized by those in the highest levels of the organization.”









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