Zagat Smartbox Makes the Gift of Fine Dining Tangible

There is still something to be said about receiving a gift box unexpectedly and being surprised by what’s inside. In today’s incentive universe of digital gifting and self-service award redemptions, David Meyers, CEO of Smartbox North America, says the company’s gift boxes containing experience gifts fulfill a niche.

Working with vetted service providers, Smartbox is a purveyor of themed experiences including spa, extreme-sport travel, and gourmet dining. Each recipient welcomes an approximate five-square-inch gift box containing a full-color, illustrated catalog (which Smartbox calls guide books) of experiences in the chosen theme and a preloaded, non-reloadable gift card that is redeemable at any service provider featured in that guide.

“The beauty of Smartbox is, if you know something about the person you’re buying for, you can make a choice of theme or interest,” Meyers notes. “The recipient gets a beautiful gift box, flips through the book, chooses an experience, and calls a restaurant, a hotel, or a hot-air balloon vendor to make a reservation,” he continues. “All partners with Smartbox have contractual relationships and are educated in the program to treat recipients like royalty.”

Each of the six available themes has its own style of gift box and guide book. Employers can customize the gift boxes they send to their employees with custom inserts, outer sleeves, or bellybands, complete with company colors and logos.

Smartbox is a worldwide company with roots in Europe. In 2010, the company, operating in 20 countries, sold six million gift boxes. In the U.S., it is based in New Brunswick, NJ, and most of its current business is made up of incremental orders by corporations, which use them for spot recognition. Smartbox has also made its way into the points-redemption catalogs of Maritz, BI, Carlson Marketing, and Dittman Incentive Marketing.

“The concept started in Belgium, and, now eight years old, it has a huge presence in Europe,” says Meyers. “When we made our entry in the U.S. a few years ago, the concept was relatively new. We’ve had several big orders—500 to 600 boxes each—and we’re being used for ad hoc incentives and recognition.”

But Meyers expects Smartbox’s U.S. presence to increase with the aid of Zagat, the renowned restaurant guide (which was recently purchased by Google). They created the Zagat Smartbox Table For Two dining experience for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, which Smartbox is marketing as an employee, client, and channel reward, recognition, and incentive solution.

The partnership created guide books of up to 50 handpicked, high-scoring Zagat-rated restaurants for each of the five cities plus Zagat-branded gift cards with unique activation codes, both of which go into specially marked gift boxes. The five guide books have been replicated online as electronic flip books, at the dedicated site

Meyers says the strategy behind the partnership was taking the most popular theme so far for Smartbox, which was dining, and elevate it with a well-known brand like Zagat. “It was the perfect partner to cobrand with,” he says, adding, “Zagat is a global and iconic brand.” It is a collaboration that Meyers says already has raised Smartbox’s brand recognition in both business-to-business and consumer marketplaces with performance improvement suppliers, retailers, and etailers.

While Smartbox offers five other types of experiences for one person, two people, or families—dubbed Fun for All, Adventure, Spa & Wellness, Charming Getaways, and Gourmet Retreats—the Zagat Smartbox Table for Two program will be “the linchpin” of the company’s U.S. growth, according to Meyers. “People enjoy dining out. It’s about doing something with family or a loved one,” he says, “and what better way than giving a memorable gift for achieving objectives or behaviors.”

So far geographically, Smartbox brokers experiences in the New York City metropolitan area, Great Lakes, Northeast, mid-Atlantic, Texas, and California. They can be viewed at and at

Meyers says the company’s mission is to continue to partner with independent retailers as it grows. Smartbox is described as a “gifting experience” company, and he foresees Smartbox being used in sales contests and as corporate gifts. “We’re in a unique niche in the marketplace,” he notes.

As the company gears up for the 2011 holiday season, he notes that it has incentive-industry veterans in its 25-person staff. It is exhibiting at the Motivation Show in Chicago this week, at booth 4926.

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