Many of AccuList’s promotional products marketing clients have been able to ride corporate buyers’ profits to an average 1.3% annual growth rate in the last five years through 2019, reaching $17 billion in U.S. revenues this year, per IBISWorld market research. But a number of challenges, requiring innovative solutions, lie ahead.
Tariffs, Amazon, Economy May Challenge Growth
Continuation of the tariffs imposed in the U.S.-China trade war are likely to have a direct impact on the promotional products market, where the vast majority of products come from China, creating rising product prices and uncertainty, even though most suppliers and distributors have continued to post sales gains this year. One of the options that some companies are already taking is a shift to sourcing from countries outside of China, such as Vietnam, per the Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI). Meanwhile, the promotional products market is facing competitive challenges from the entry of big online competitors such as behemoth Amazon. Market execs have told ASI that they believe the entry of the e-commerce power threatens to potentially cut out suppliers and distributors by positioning itself as the lowest-cost provider from a product and freight perspective. Their worries include Amazon opting to partner with only select suppliers and distributors; selling direct through its platform; and/or using its search presence for rankings that create winners and losers, and force up advertising expenses for all. Web-based distributors and large online stores are on the front lines, but all promo products firms fear competing with the e-commerce giant’s buyer expectations and immediate delivery and return services. Finally, the potential of an economic slowdown or even recession has some nervous, too. To prep for that possibility, promo product pros say they are putting more stress on prospecting and networking, distributor-supplier partnering to reduce costs, and lower-ticket items with good repeat business.
E-commerce and Technology Will Be Key Drivers
ASI recently interviewed 10 leading suppliers and distributors in the promotional products market for their visions on handling such challenges over the next 5-10 years. The good news is that all foresaw continued growth, albeit with increasing consolidation and online dominance. For example, Mark Simon, president/CEO of distributor HALO Branded Solutions, forecast: “Technology will drive every aspect of the industry in the next 10 years. Buyers will require more robust and more diverse methods to select and purchase products, and follow their orders throughout the order life cycle… Our industry must keep pace with the enhanced buying experience other channels are providing to stay relevant.” E-commerce will be the standard, benefiting big players but leaving room for niche firms as Mark Freed, President/CEO of distributor Genumark, predicts: “I see continuous growth from the large online players that provide a fast, painless, accessible solution for clients looking for simple, inexpensive drop-shipping. I also see continuous growth and consolidation for multifaceted large distributors providing a suite of features that meet a variety of complex requirements for sophisticated clients, which could be related to logistics and fulfillment, quality and compliance, off-the-charts creativity and relentless customer service. There will still be a place for smaller, boutique-size distributors, but they better have a niche like specialized knowledge of the client’s industry or unbelievably innovative ideas.”
Bigger Roles for Data Analytics, Personalized Service, and Creative Marketing
Meanwhile, in the expanded digital environment, data management will loom large; Sharon Eyal, CEO/owner of supplier ETS Express, asserts that “in the next five years, a reliance on data will be more important than ever… We look at how many orders we have in production, which materials are being used, which items are being ordered, which types of decoration, etc. and then we expand and contract in departments as needed.” Up against Amazon, personalized customer experience will be key, too; Jana Schmidt, CEO of distributor Harland Clarke, stresses the “need to provide a personalized, frictionless experience to businesses as clients seek to promote their brands. There’s separation between having an e-commerce presence and truly building the online buying experience.” And creativity will count for even more; Debbie Abergel, chief strategic officer of Jack Nadel International, says, “There will also be a growth of creative promotional agencies – the rise and marriage of creativity and custom. Think about corporate clients that invest in giving their clients and employees a true brand product experience; not price-focused, but looking to build their brand name.” She cites the interest in reusable straws as an example. Read more predictions for the promotional products industry.