How Popular Rewards Stack Up Against Each Other

To effectively drive employee engagement, increase customer loyalty, and attract participants—your reward program needs a powerful motivator.

Program managers have varying opinions when it comes to which reward is truly best. Some believe gift cards are the best option while others point to travel or experiential rewards. Here’s a look at how popular rewards stack up against each other, from cash and merchandise to gift cards and clothing.


According to the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), products like sunglasses and plaques are among the most frequently selected items for reward programs. Why are these items so popular? They’re easily accessible. Amazon, for example, sells over 100,000 types of toothbrushes. Similarly, Alibaba can send your business a thousand ceramic mugs in less than a week. At times, the number of options can feel like too much of a good thing. As a result, the IRF has noted a shift toward more meaningful rewards.

“When our options, including merchandise products, become so varied, so abundant, and so accessible, the process of choosing will in turn become overwhelming, stress-inducing, and anxiety-ridden,” explains the IRF. Many reward managers have felt a strong desire to find items with more meaning—and that are better equipped to move the needle when it comes to driving engagement and loyalty.


Cash is an attractive incentive because it’s flexible, which means your customers or employees can spend it how they choose. In many cases, it’s an ideal incentive. However, there’s a key drawback to consider: the risk of becoming unmemorable. According to the IRF, non-cash rewards outperform cash rewards because recipients often use cash to pay for everyday expenses—like utilities, groceries, or car payments. This type of spending may be practical, but it isn’t exciting or memorable.

Branded Clothing

Who doesn’t love getting a cozy sweatshirt to wear around the office? As long as it’s made from high-quality materials, branded clothing is great way to reward employees or customers. Many businesses are quick to add clothing items to reward programs because the perceived cost is low—but even something as simple as a t-shirt can come with unexpected fees. By the time you’ve paid the additional fee to have your logo printed on the shirts, covered the cost of shipping, and paid the additional fee to send the shirts to multiple addresses, the total cost of these seemingly simple items has likely increased by at least 6%.

Travel & Experiential Rewards

Before COVID-19, travel and experiential rewards were popular options from a recipient standpoint. Being able to experience a trip, attend a concert, or eat at an exclusive restaurant was extremely motivating. The downside to travel and experiential rewards was the high cost.

In its 2018 report, the IRF noted that although incentive travel budgets grew in 2017, 60% of respondents said travel costs increased faster than budgets. Ultimately, to offer a successful reward program with travel incentives, you need a large budget.

Gift Cards

There’s a reason gift cards have been at the top of wish lists for the last 14 years. They’re easy, cost effective, and desirable. However, without an established partner to streamline gift card delivery, the process can become very manual. You want to avoid being in a situation where you’re constantly visiting stores to purchase gift cards directly—and figuring out how to securely store them.

Curious how we streamline e-gift card delivery? With Rewards Genius®, our free, self-serve web portal, you can order, send, and track gift cards in one easy place.

Why Our Customers Choose E-Gift Cards

Here are the top reasons why our clients choose e-gift cards for their reward programs:

Gift Cards Are Budget Friendly

The majority of our reward solutions are completely free, which means 100% of your reward budget goes to the incentive in most cases. Our customers don’t even need a large budget for their programs to be successful—many start out small.

Gift Cards Offer Digital Advantages

Our digital reward catalog has 350+ of the most popular gift card brands, saving our customers time that normally would be spent at the store buying gift cards directly.

Customers Like Having a Choice

The ability to choose is exactly what e-gift cards provide. Plus, our e-gift cards arrive instantly, making customer satisfaction immediate.

How Our Clients Deliver E-Gift Cards

Whatever the type of reward or incentive program, our customers often use Reward Link®. With Reward Link, they’re able to send gift card incentives instantly via email. When a recipient opens the email, they click the Reward Link URL and are directed to a gift card catalog, which provides 100+ brands to choose from. 

Email to learn how you can improve your reward and incentive program with gift cards.

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