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The Story of the Popcorn Maker * Why Choice Matters

Once upon a time, there was a hardworking, motivated salesman named Jim.  He was one of those legendary sales people who is not only effective but a wonderful team player.  He was supportive of his marketing, finance and operations teams – all of whom were instrumental to his success.

This is a true story, told to me just last week.

Jim worked for a company that offers a points-based merchandise catalog employee recognition program.  Because he is such a team player, Jim had received numerous awards from his peers and managers.  Last summer, he was planning an 8th grade graduation party for his son, Jim Jr.  He hadn’t found anything in the catalog he particularly cared for but then something caught his attention – an old fashioned popcorn maker.  He thought it would be a wonderful surprise and treat for his son’s graduation party.  Jim redeemed all his points for the popcorn maker.

TableTop Popcorn Popper: $99 in Incentive Company Catalog

After a few weeks of waiting, the popcorn maker finally arrived.  Imagine Jim’s surprise when he saw the box was no bigger than a toaster oven.  He thought there must be some mistake.  He opened the package only to realize the package was indeed his popcorn maker.  It was a tiny little thing that made no more popcorn than the average bag of popcorn popped in a microwave!  This was certainly NOT going to be a big hit with the kids.

Jim packed the popcorn maker in its carton and sent it back.  Jim learned the recognition company was out of stock on the larger model and decided to send him another model with a catalog value of $99, without any communication about the switch.

Same item on Amazon only $29 with free shipping

Jim found the popcorn maker he truly wanted at an internet retailer. What the incentive company represented as a $349 value in its recognition catalog, cost only $249 through other retailers with free shipping.  Jim also found the small popcorn popper the recognition company sent him, which they valued at $99, for only $29.  That’s a 241% markup!

Jim subsequently left the company. He never redeemed his points.  While the catalog boasted 3,000 items – most of them were things that one might find in the SkyMall catalog and only a portion of the 3,000 were obtainable with the points Jim received.

Jim gets what he wants – but not through his award points

The moral of the story?  Most merchandise-based recognition programs carry a hefty mark-up on the merchandise. Employees are often discouraged by the number of points they need to redeem for anything of value.  They are even more disappointed about how expensive items are in the recognition program compared to everyday street-level value.  Lastly, they feel forced to choose from a limited number of items.  3,000 sounds like a lot until you think the number of employees at your company and their differing interests.

A better option? Limitless choice in rewards – anywhere in the world – from the outlets, merchants and venues your employees know and trust in their own neighborhoods.


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