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The 6 Types of Virtual Trade Shows for Wholesalers

The 6 Types of Virtual Trade Shows for Wholesalers

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This year has been a transformative one, to say the least, due to COVID-19. Businesses of all industries have been forced to learn to operate in a predominantly online environment, and many, such as wholesalers who traditionally rely on in-person shows and events as their primary sales channel, have also had to pivot the way they undertake their entire sales process. The result is a rapid industry shift toward virtual trade shows, and wholesalers everywhere are scrambling to adapt at lightning speed.

A virtual trade show is an event that is conducted and hosted online, where exhibitors and visitors can connect with one another on the web, rather than in-person. A previously little known phrase, the popularity of the term ‘virtual trade show’ exploded during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Take a look at the graph below from Google Trends that clearly shows how the term was quite stable for the past five years, but then exploded since March 2020.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some organisations have chosen to cancel their events altogether, such as SuperZoo, an annual trade show for the pet industry. SuperZoo decided to postpone their 2020 in-person show until 2021, releasing public announcements like this one:

"It’s become obvious to us that moving forward with SuperZoo 2020 in a format that abides by health and safety regulations will compromise too many components for us to deliver the experience. Therefore, we have made the decision to postpone SuperZoo 2020. The rescheduled date has been confirmed for Tuesday, August 17 – Thursday, 19, 2021 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.”

Many other organisations, however, have chosen (and still are choosing) to embrace an online virtual format. Perhaps here’s why:

Virtual events rank as the 2nd most important source of information considered by big business decision-makers when it comes time to invest in new technologies, according to Forrester’s research.

Let’s take a look at the various types of virtual trade shows we’re seeing emerge so far.

1. Meeting-focused 

Some trade show organisers place their focus on relationship building online as they try to create the best environment for exhibitors and visitors to connect.

Here is an example:

2020 Streamlining Healthcare Expo & Business Exchange, September 22-24, 2020

  • Online education sessions entirely focused on COVID-19
  • Reverse Expos and Innovation Expo for networking
  • Meet online in small, private groups
  • Private video conference meetings
  • Distributor Q&A webinars for manufacturers
  • Virtual networking to connect with other attendees

2. Buyer-focused

Other show organisers are focusing on creating a virtual catalog where buyers can browse virtual booths and then submit inquiries to wholesalers, manufacturers, and distributors through an online platform.

Here is an example:

Ny Now Digital Market, October 3-7, 2020

3. Private invite only

There is somewhat of a risk with virtual trade shows that unqualified buyers and exhibitors can access each other through these online platforms. So, Alibaba, who organises an entire series of virtual trade shows, decided to make most of their virtual events by ‘invite only’, like this one:

US Beauty & Personal Care Online Trade Show, October 13-15, 2020

4. Short duration with extended access

Some virtual trade show organisers came to the realisation that bringing people together through an online platform for a fixed number of days not only makes for an efficient way of doing business, but also presents an opportunity to extend the “open” period for the event.

For example, Texworld USA Summer 2020 actually took place in July 2020, but remained open until September 5, 2020.

5. Long duration 

Yet another epiphany by some event organisers was that going virtual also meant you could increase the total duration of the online event, thus giving extended access to their audience. An excellent example of this is Magic Fashion Events, who opted for an 8-week term for their 2020 Digital Trade Event instead of the typical 2 to 4-day duration experienced with their live, in-person event.

6. Always-on marketplace 

Finally, some trade show organisers decided to convert their online event to an online marketplace, instead of trying to replicate the face-to-face experience virtually. The result is a digital wholesale marketplace where buyers can view and order products under the brand of the trade show itself. ASD Online Market is an example of an ‘always-on marketplace’ that allows buyers to design their own event and shopping experience in their own time frame and from the comfort of their home or office. Their previous in-person event called MarketWeek looked like this

Extend Your Web of Leads Virtually

Virtual trade shows and events are an attractive and powerful tool in your sales and marketing arsenal. They give you the ability to generate qualified leads and contacts without ever having to leave your office and without running up costly travel expenses. They also offer a lower barrier to entry, which attracts a larger and more diverse audience.

Quick Guide to Wholesale Discounts & Pricing
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