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A Step-by-Step Guide to The Future of Hybrid Shows

When COVID-19 struck, Tradeshows had to quickly pivot to digital. It was a time of confusion and uncertainty. What do buyers want? Are they interested in connections? Or buying? Do they even have the budgets?

The first instinct for tradeshow operators was to recreate the offline show online.

At offline events, the focus is on discovery and networking. A few buyers may write orders, but most approach it as a venue to touch and feel the items, pick up catalogs, and get to the commerce post-show after they add up their open-to-buy amounts.

From the very beginning, we believed that digital-only shows can only be successful only if buyers have the ability to do end-to-end e-commerce and procurement online.

Our data support this hypothesis.

After two seasons, 78% of registered buyers completed the sale online. Proof is in the sales — Shoppe Object surpassed quarter million in orders within the first few days of opening.

And now, with vaccinations on the rise and Covid subsiding, trade shows are ready to get back to real life. Which poses a new question.

How do the advantages unearthed in online-only blend with a physical experience?

Digital trends that started prior to Covid are more pronounced now.

“This is not a one-time thing due to COVID-19. We hope people — when we are back to our face-to-face events — use the digital marketplace to plan prior to the show, and do some search and discovery. Our future business model is a hybrid of the two.”

— Kelly Helfman
  Informa Markets

But Why Now?

In addition to the pandemic fueling new habits, three market forces have changed the way trade shows will operate in the future.

1. Attendance is down, but online buying is up

While show attendance is waning, digital sales are up. Buyers are willing to spend more online with purchases ranging from $50K and upto $500K in the top range.

With Covid the numbers are skewed even further which is why we removed the 2020 data.

2. Vendors Expect Higher ROI, 3 Days is Not Enough

The cost and effort to set up a booth is so high that vendors are willing to continue spending on shows only if they can see more value beyond the initial show dates.

In the past, vendors expected new accounts and repeat business from those accounts that at a minimum covered the cost of their booths. Today they expect leads for the entire season. The expectation is their tradeshow can also become an online lead gen venue year-round. Where they can also learn about buyer preferences from digital clicks and trend reports.

3. Vendors Are in A New API Driven Economy

Today, vendors can post their products to multiple venues at once.

In the past, platforms were closed, and exporting product data out was tedious. Now that modern platforms like Shopify expose their APIs, vendors are able to easily stream their files from their main B2B platform to tradeshow platforms. This means a tradeshow can fully onboard hundreds of vendors within a few days.

"Imagine a world like our personal retail experiences now — you can shop or source, in-person, online and at any time of the day or night. This will be a normal part of our events and brands."

Yancy Weinrich,Chief Growth Officer, Reed Exhibitions, US

Prepping for a Hybrid experience

A hybrid experience requires a fundamental rethink of how buyers behave on approach different mediums. Let’s look at the main ingredients that make each show successful.

Physical shows

Digital Shows

Combine the two, we get the recipe for a hybrid show

Blending Physical and Digital

-Preshow : Buyer Registration and vendor on boarding

-Show: On the floor buying, connecting

-Show Season: E-commerce and video chat

-Post Show: Renewals and Next Season Previews

"The biggest eye-opener for me has been to no longer think about virtual events in a linear way. You’re not trying to recreate a three-day experience at the Javits Center "

Greg TopalianCEO,

Clarion Events, North America

The Season Journey

The buyer's journey starts with registration. They expect to see a preview of the season. Insiders want a VIP experience with sneak peeks at the latest collections.

Here’s what the breakdown looks like

Pre-Show Season (45 Days)

This is a stressful time for tradeshow operators when they need to recruit, onboard, and support vendors. Customer support has to be in peak mode.

The four main tasks during this period are.

During this time, buyers may also have preview days over chat.

Show (3–4 Days)

Once the vendors are set up, the fun begins. The ideal hybrid show needs to create a seamless experience between the lead in to the actual show all in one platform.

Show Season (Approx 6 months)

Post Season (30 days)

-Renewing memberships

-Parking old vendors and protecting order history

-Setting up new collections for exclusive previews

-Trend report from the show

What Do Leads Look Like?

With the combination of physical and digital interactions, the quality of leads are much deeper and valuable for vendors to plan their outreach.

For exanple, if a buyer makes their way to a vendor’s booth and scans their QR code, that’s a higher level of interest, versus creating a wishlist online.

If the buyer takes both actions then the lead quality is even higher.

Some of the leads vendors can recieve all season-long are:

Show operators can get their own global view of the analytics, allowing them to plan for future season and view trends.

Until today, show operators were in a fog and how many orders were actually written. Without data, or a proper sampling size, everything is your best guess. But with the right hybrid analytics, show operators can introduce vendors to a new level of success!

Hybrid Shows will not only generate new revenue streams for trade show operators but also open up a new sales channel for their vendors.

The new normal will be an exciting time for everyone.

Vinit Patil is the CEO/ Co-founder of Ribbon, a modern platform for Tradesfairs and Art Fairs, and Showrooms. To request a demo visit