MADISON, Wis. (2/1/10)--A growing number of credit unions and banks are attempting to attract and retain new members by offering marketing merchandise--such as toasters, iPods and luggage--instead of offering cash and gift cards. “Cash, it seems, is no longer king,” said Alan Yarbrough, director of sales for River Rock Marketing Services, a company that specializes in developing incentive-based acquisition and retention programs that use merchandise as incentive gifts (Business Wire Jan. 28). “With $50 offers regularly being topped by $250 offers, our clients are telling us that they are giving up on a cash ‘arms race’ that has become prohibitively expensive and questionable in value,” Yarbrough added. Research conducted in December by AlixPartners LLP indicated that consumers want to switch from big banks to credit unions and local banks. The research also showed that 75% of banking customers were unhappy with banks in general, said River Rock. “Now more than ever, consumers want a transparent relationship built on old-fashioned values like honesty, integrity and respect,” Yarbrough said. “Small- and mid-sized banks and credit unions are turning to branded bank marketing gifts as an inducement to earn their business and help build that relationship.” Branded merchandise motivates consumers to take immediate action, he added. It has a long-term “trophy value.” Once cash or a gift card is spent, it’s gone, Yarborough said.