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Guide to Incentivizing Study Participation with Gift Cards

Posted, by Deborah Merkin
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Whether it’s an academic study or a commercial focus group, it's critical to recruit and maintain the right audience to ensure statistical significance to support a hypothesis or represent a buying group. The most straightforward way to recruit and maintain that audience is through incentives.  

Research incentives can take many forms, like cash, digital gift cards, physical gift cards, or even merchandise. Consider the incentives compensation for the participants’ time. They are taking time out of their lives to provide the feedback and opinions that will drive the research study forward. As such, they deserve to be compensated.  

Your target compensation depends on the audience, such as students, lower income workers, skilled professionals or high-powered executives. Research participant compensation is a vital component of the research study design, but also needs to be considered carefully to retain the audience your study requires.  

Why Choose Gift Cards as Incentives?  

There are a variety of research incentives to choose from, so why are gift cards such a strong choice? The answer is simple- they are delivered easily, adapt to different research settings, and have the universal appeal of cash with the added benefit of a more memorable experience.   

Gift cards are great incentives because they can be attributed to universally loved brands like Target, AMC Theatres, or DoorDash. This creates a memorable interaction with participants' favorite retail stores and services, empowering them to use their rewards for everyday spending or leisure experiences. 

Alternatively, the Engage2Reward™ Choice Card puts the power of choice in the recipient's hands, allowing them to allocate the gift card value to the brand or brands of their choosing in the Engage2Reward Platform. With over 250 digital brands in the Engage2Reward catalog, everyone can find something to love. 


Other options like merchandise or institutional credits are common research incentives, but they risk not holding the intended value for the recipient. If the recipient doesn’t want to or can’t use the research incentive provided, they feel as though they have provided their time and feedback for free, providing a poor participant experience. Additionally, the money spent on the incentives feels wasted by the research team.  

Gift cards present a minimal risk of this adverse situation because they are universally usable and hold value for anyone from a student to a high-powered executive when executed correctly. They are flexible in denomination, ensuring efficacy for any research budget. 

Types of Gift Cards for Research Participants  

One of the biggest variables for gift card incentive execution is the delivery of the reward. Will you send digital cards that arrive to an email or via a text message or will you hand someone a card as they exit the focus group room? There are two keys to identifying the right type of gift cards for your research study: knowing your audience and ensuring timeliness. 

Digital: If your research participants are tech savvy and accustomed to shopping and even banking online, digital gift cards will be welcomed and aligned with their regular consumer activities.  

Physical: For less tech inclined audiences such as older demographics, physical cards are the right choice. A tangible reward meets them where they are, rather than asking them to adopt technology for an individual incentive. 

Tailoring the delivery method to your audience can help avoid frustration and incentive abandonment, ensuring that participants feel adequately compensated for their time and effort.  

Benefits of Using Gift Cards in Research Studies  

As you design a research study, it's logical to build gift cards into your study as research participant compensation. By incentivizing participants, you can build a foundation of success for current research as well as future studies. 

Reducing Absenteeism: Incentives increase participation rates, motivating participants to arrive on time so your study runs smoothly and remains on-schedule. 

Participant Diversity: Distributing gift cards as incentives for participation in research studies also helps maintain diversity of study participants, ensuring a study make up that will support the needs of the research.  

Repeat Participation: A good incentive also supports high participant satisfaction ratings for the study experience, which helps your organization maintain a pool of happy study participants in the future.  

Network Building: Satisfied participants are also more likely to refer their own network, serving as ambassadors to your study by increasing your potential participant pool. 

Ease of Use: Gift cards represent a unique advantage over other research participant incentive options: ease of distribution and management. Gift cards provide the flexibility to choose a distribution method and budget that will work for your audience and for your organization.   

Choosing the Right Gift Card Platform  

When implementing gift cards as research incentives, it’s important to choose a gift card platform that meets your needs. A tool with the right combination of features and technology can make both the study team and the recipients’ experiences seamless.   

Security: Ensure you can safely send physical cards by mail or deliver them in person. This cuts down on gift card fraud and ensures study participants get to use the full value of their incentive. For digital cards, establish that you have secure channels to deliver the cards, whether that’s through SMS links or via email.   

Analytics: Allow your team to gain insight into study progression with user-friendly dashboards and instant reporting. With access to data such as average order value and quantity, you're empowered to stay on budget while meeting research goals. 

Distribution: Deliver participant payment in a convenient, timely manner. Whether recipients prefer a low-tech physical card or a link in an email or text, knowing your audience and matching the distribution channels to their spending habits will guarantee a greater long-term ROI. Bulk distribution methods are time-effective and reduce overhead, creating a smoother and faster compensation process. 

The Engage2Reward™ Gift Card Ordering Platform provides all these features: security features associated with every step of the process, a powerful analytics dashboard to give you greater control and visibility into your program, and multiple distribution channels including bulk options, along with live customer service to ensure that your experience using gift card incentives in your research study is seamless.

Reward participants instantly with physical gift cards, which can be quickly activated through the Engage2Reward Platform activation module, or send out eGift cards through text or email for easy digital access. Whichever method you choose, participants will feel adequately compensated for their time and effort.


Considering Gift Cards as Research Study Incentives  

Designing research studies is a meticulous, process-driven practice. Useful data hinges on the right participant pool; without recruiting the right people, the entire study could be in jeopardy. Considering research study incentives as part of the study design is crucial to recruiting and retaining the study participants you require.  

Using gift cards as research incentives is compelling because they can scale to meet different audience compensation expectations, are flexible to meet any budget, and can be distributed in a way that makes sense for your study and its participants. More than that, gift cards are likely to deliver value to your recipients and provide a return on investment for your study team.   

Learn how you can start implementing gift cards as research incentives today with the Engage2Reward Platform. 



Ryan Moore. (2023, April 4). Recruiting the right participants for your focus groups: Best practices. RMS. https://rmsresults.com/2023/04/14/recruiting-the-right-participants-for-your-focus-groups-best-practices/

Using incentives to increase research participation. Hardwick Research. (2019, March 5). https://www.hardwickresearch.com/using-incentives-to-improve-qualitative-research-participation/

Topics: Gift Card Incentives & Rewards, Gift Cards, eGift Cards, Rewards and Recognition, Research Incentives

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