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5 E-commerce Challenges for

Tradeshows and How to Overcome Them

Omni-channel. Phygital. Hybrid. Whatever you want to call it. It’s been a decade since tradeshows thought about switching to this 360 strategy, where networking, e-commerce, and procurement happen not only on the trade show floor but also on the site.

The strategy paid off as we saw with Shoppe Object, one of the first shows to adopt a hybrid experience by quickly pivoting to e-commerce online in August 2020 and full hybrid a year later in 2021. Sales grew 20% and leads grew 35% season over the season while all the other shows were stuck one first gear. Full Disclosure: Ribbon is the hybrid platform powering Shoppe Object.

In our last article, we discussed why e-commerce is more important than online networking to excite buyers. And Jesse James, founder of Shoppe Object seems to think that if shows don’t go hybrid, they should go home.

Why E-Commerce is a No-Brainer

Some of the reasons are not so apparent

Capitalize on Your Show’s Brand

60% of Coca-Cola's value is the Coca-Cola brand. It’s no different for shows. Your show has captured mind share over the course of its existence.

It’s heartbreaking to squander it away just because physical shows are stalled for the time being. Shows will come back stronger than ever so it makes sense to introduce a digital model that can convert to hybrid once the world reopens.

Stay Top of Mind

Out of sight is out of mind. E-commerce is an easy source of content to keep your buyers and vendors engaged all season long. With your curation and expertise, your timely updates on new promotions and specials will be relevant versus “just another email”. Vendors will also welcome the leads. It signals to vendors that you have the ability to pivot and stay relevant under any circumstances.

Add Season Long Value to Exhibitors

The most common complaint from exhibitors is that after spending tens of thousands of dollars on a show, their investment is hard to quantify. It bears little value beyond the first three days (not counting the three additional days of set-up and travel). While some buyers may have written orders, or collected cards, by the time they get back, the majority may have already moved on. Missed opportunities. E-commerce provides the type of inbound experience and season-long longevity that keeps buyers engaged and extends those six days to six months.

Offer Convenience to Buyers

From our survey with Home and Goods retailers, we found that buyers prefer to shop while they browse a site online versus spending time networking. Networking is nice to have but if your trade show hosts suppliers with goods that go on a retail shelf, buyers don’t see the point of networking. Offering to buy is the best form of networking.

Top 5 Challenges with Introducing E-commerce

Although harnessing the full potential of E-commerce for your tradeshow has huge advantages but easier said than done, especially if you’re an independent trade show owner who is thinking about moving the show online.

We’ve seen it first hand. And we know how to solve them.

Challenge #1: Getting Vendor Buy-In

Just as trade show operators are warming up to hybrid models, so are vendors. They understand the value but need to know exactly how their sales and leads will increase with a digital e-commerce presence by virtue of the show. The good news is they perceive a virtual tradeshow as a marketplace that’s already has a strong buyer persona that fits their audience. To get their approval to share the type of and quantity of buyers you have, what promotions you have in mind, the type of leads they can expect, and what it will cost. This last part is especially important and the pricing should be simple like renting a piece of show furniture or paying for booth space.

Challenge #2: Simplifying Catalog Management

For e-commerce to work successfully, vendors need to post their catalog and keep it updated on the tradeshow site — a time-consuming process. Most vendors still work with printed line sheets or PDFs. It starts with downloading a catalog and formatting it to the tradeshow site. Or building it from scratch if they only have a PDF. The first step to remedy this is the tradeshow’s digital catalog format must be compatible with popular B2B sites like WooCommerce and Shopify for quick easy import. If not the manual transfer should be as easy as possible.

Challenge #3: Creating Digital Promotions

After the physical show is over, it’s important to keep the conversation going with digital promotions. A good cadence is a biweekly newsletter that showcases new vendors that buyers might have missed, or mid-season specials. The vendors can also be bracketed into various buckets, so for example for a stationery show, it would help to showcase “Best of Screen printing”, “ Letterpress” etc. On Ribbon, show operators can simply #hashtag these topics and drive traffic directly to the collection on the site.

Challenge #4: Integrating with Multiple Payment Gateways

Each vendor works with different payment gateways due to past relationships, active contracts, or negotiated credit card rates. Having to opt for a new payment processor to suit the needs of the tradeshow instead of their own, can be a deal-breaker. The procurement process has to be Gateway agnostic. As a digital show, you could offer all options for vendors to use the gateway of their choice. Ribbon is integrated with over 45 payment gateways from over 105 countries. The new areas where vendors are having trouble are CBD products which are still restricted. Only a few Gateways like NMI and Square Up service these types of products.

Challenge #5: Explaining the Digital to Buyers

What buyers might imagine is a digital version of the physical trade show, where after three days, everything is packed up and taken away. What they need time to adjust to is a platform that’s 24/7 365 days a year. Explaining to buyers that this show will have specials and new collections within a tight time frame, but buying online will continue and things aren’t going to turn into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight. Once they understand this, the pressure is off.

Bonus Challenge #6: Finding the Right Partner

Overcoming the challenges of introducing e-commerce is more than worth your while. Cultivating an effective digital transformation requires vendor onboarding, ongoing promotions, and patience. Jump through all the hoops, and you’ll eventually connect your vendors with scores of potential buyers. And what you need to really need is how to get up and running with zero upfront costs.

While getting started with digitizing is hard, but once you get going, you’ll provide you with season-long joy for your buyers.

Vinit Patil is the CEO/ Co-founder of Ribbon, a trade show platform with a mission to make all fairs shoppable online.