Do Trade Shows Still Work in the Retailing Industry?

Jan 23, 2009

Commentary by Al McClain

Is the real-world trade show format still viable in this age of
advanced communication? Judging
from last week’s NRF convention, my vote is
“yes.” While a lot of shows have fallen by the wayside, it seems
to me that there is still an important role for keynote speeches, workshops,
product demonstrations, and face-to-face meetings. Sure, this can all be
done by virtual tradeshows, but traveling to a physical event for a few days
better focuses the attendees on the subjects at hand than a virtual event

Here are some key elements
that made the NRF show work for me:

  • High quality educational component;
  • Held in a venue they could
    sell out;
  • Technology exhibitors were
    able to demo their wares to many prospects in one place;
  • Many retailer meetings held
    and private rooms were available;
  • Strong organization and communication
    from the association.

Of course, having cool
new technology at your show keeps things fresh, and NRF had some of that:

Intel showcased a POS
kiosk proof-of-concept that is sleek, reduces energy consumption by 70
percent, and allows presumably high-end retailers to do suggestive selling
to shoppers as they check out, via online-like technology.

Mobile marketing continues
to be the rage, and AzureMayan demonstrated
technology enabling retailers to send offers to the cell phones of shoppers
in Bluetooth areas. Each offer stays on screen for only 10 seconds and
then disappears if the shopper doesn’t act on it. In theory, the company
claims this is not spam because it’s not an email or a text so it doesn’t
need opt-in. (In other words, it hasn’t been regulated yet.)

There was also a lot
of buzz around the new Microsoft Tag mobile tagging system, allowing consumers
to interact with printed content such as magazines, billboards, etc.

I haven’t heard an attendance
figure for the NRF show yet and wouldn’t be surprised if there was a significant
drop from last year. But, in my mind, the point is that there was energy at
the show, and attendees could learn a lot, and interact with many others
in their industry in a short period of time.

Discussion questions:
Do you think virtual shows will replace physical trade shows in the retailing
industry? What are the most important elements to a successful retail
trade show?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Do Trade Shows Still Work in the Retailing Industry?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Jack Rhodes
Jack Rhodes
13 years 4 months ago

It’s hard not to agree with all the above comments; they all make good business sense. I would only hope that the retailers that are making the decisions not to go are reading them.

In doing many shows each year, it is unbelievable how many of the large retailers have either one, or sometimes no one, attending. They blame the economy but I think they just don’t see the benefits of having their buyers and category managers attending. I hope this discussion reaches the right people.

John Crossman
John Crossman
13 years 4 months ago

Nothing will replace face to face meetings. Trade shows are crucial to the industry and are absolutely a worthy investment of time and resources.

James Tenser
13 years 4 months ago
Clearly the era of the big, flashy, over-the-top exhibit hall has given way to one with more modest production values. And there are fewer of them, owing to sheer economics and common sense. However to my mind, “virtual” trade shows lack the immediacy and beneficial randomness of packing a crowd into a noisy, brightly lit hall. My bias is showing here. Some of my most satisfying professional experiences have been at large trade shows. I also believe there is no substitute for live educational conferences, which have valuable networking benefits in addition to the presentation content. We tend to learn better in groups, I think. So I say “never” but with caveats, since changes in expectations may follow with the succession of generations. I heard recently about a conference event being staged on the “Second Life” virtual environment. Fascinating idea, although I don’t really want to meet your avatar–I’d rather meet you. Another concept is the hosting of “permanent” online trade shows or markets using a variant of social networking software, similar to Facebook. In… Read more »
Tad Shepperd
Tad Shepperd
13 years 4 months ago

Trade shows are here to stay. I believe we will continue to have a “major” show each year and it will most likely be NRF. They have done a good job of keeping the show vital as times have changed.

I think we will also continue to see the rise of smaller, topic-focused Executive Conferences. They allow the solution providers and the retailers a more intimate setting to exchange ideas and best practices.

Trade shows and conferences are like bricks and mortar retail stores. Although there is plenty of online shopping available, shoppers want to touch and feel the merchandise and really interact with other people.

Trade shows and bricks and mortar stores are here to stay.

Dave Wendland
13 years 4 months ago

Terrific and thoughtful dialogue has already been shared on this topic. I would agree that strategically-directed events are here to say. I would also freely–and quickly–admit that most industries are over-showed. If you attend events to see and be seen by the same people time and time again, their effectiveness must be questioned.

As a result of this discomforting ‘adjustment’ of the economy, I can think of no company that isn’t evaluating the return on virtually every marketing investment…including (and perhaps especially) trade shows. At what point will the right mix of attendees, exhibitors and programs once again blend to the perfect storm we are all expecting from our participation?

Bottom line? We are committed to attending trade shows in our industry but each will be individually evaluated and the return on effort closely monitored. Time is precious. Expense cutting is real. And value is a must.

Warren Thayer
13 years 4 months ago

What a pleasant surprise to see so many “believers” in physical trade shows. Have to say I agree with the thread throughout, especially the part about people still needing personal interaction. To read the press today (I use online, and what’s quaintly called “print media”), trade shows are dead, malls will be gone by October and the last newspaper will come off the presses a week from Tuesday, and probably a morning edition at that. I’d expect trade show attendance to be down for awhile. As has been mentioned, we’re in a bad recession and who here among us has not been told to cut back on travel this year?

Joel Warady
Joel Warady
13 years 4 months ago
Today, there is still a need for trade shows, although the importance of trade shows continues to wane. As the world sees a consolidation of retailers, and as retailers look to reduce the numbers of vendors with whom they do business, the fact is most time spent at a trade show is unproductive time, and the meetings that are held can be accomplished through technology. Look at the age of the traditional trade show attendee. They are older, they did not grow up with computers as their constant companion, and technology is something they use, not something they live. As the Net Gen community takes over the role of buyer, and of seller, the way that they choose to connect with one another with alter greatly. If I were ECRM, I would be morphing my model to a 100%, online web-based model, that can be attended by everyone without having to leave their desk. This is where trade shows are headed, and we will see a lot of cities with large, unused exhibition centers.
Mel Kleiman
13 years 4 months ago

I would never say never. Two hundred years ago, no one would have thought that the horse would be replaced as the means of moving people and goods. How many of us own a horse?

It will take something more than the technology we have today to replace the trade show, though. A lot of the advantages have been posted above. An additional one is, people still want to deal with people. Customers still want to touch and feel the goods they are buying or press the buttons. Lastly, if done right, trade shows are the least expensive way to uncover new prospects and see lot of your present customers at one time.

Note, I said if done right, but most companies still don’t do it right.

Marc Gordon
Marc Gordon
13 years 4 months ago

It’s going to take more than technology to reduce the effectiveness of face to face meetings and personal interaction. After all, people don’t buy from businesses, they buy from people. And trade shows are the single best forum for both vendors and clients to meet.

It should be no surprise that attendance is down. After all, we are in a nasty recession. But don’t confuse attendance with effectiveness. In many cases, lower exhibitor attendance is due more to these companies simply seeking other marketing opportunities. And in many cases I would question the results of those decisions.

Want to succeed in your market place? Get to the shows and meet the people who can help your business grow.

Kevin Graff
13 years 4 months ago

Trade shows, just like classroom training sessions, are here to stay. E-learning has proven itself to be viable, but hasn’t dispatched workshops. Virtual trade shows are growing, but still are dwarfed by standard events. Trade shows and classroom training recognize the need for humans to connect in person. Socializing is key to learning and development.

As for what makes a trade show or conference successful, that’s pretty easy. I’ve been a speaker at these type of events for 20 years and typically I can tell within 5 minutes of arriving on site if this event will be a star or a dud. Amongst the keys are outstanding organization, a great venue and catering, exciting technology (even if its just great music and visuals), surprises for the delegates, dynamic speakers, and most importantly, relevant information that the delegates can actually use.

The NRF does a great job on all counts.

David Dorf
13 years 4 months ago

Trade shows such as NRF’s Big Show are a great opportunity for retailers to:
1. Learn about new technologies from many vendors at once.
2. Listen to industry experts.
3. Network with fellow retailers.
4. Reaffirm partnerships with existing vendors.

All of these things lead to a better understanding of emerging trends, best practices, and new ideas. Much of this comes from the social interactions that would be absent over a web conference. So trade shows certainly serve a purpose, and I don’t see them going away anytime soon.

David Biernbaum
13 years 4 months ago
Trade shows in the consumer packaged goods industry “work” best for retailers and suppliers that fully and properly “work” the trade shows. A few tips for both retailers and suppliers, alike: 1. Use all the online, virtual, and human resources provided by the trade organization weeks (months) before the event takes place. 2. Define your objectives and goals for each show and start your planning process immediately once you register to attend. 3. When you get to the show, dare to get out of your comfort zone. Meet people you don’t know. See products and services previously unknown to you. Don’t be a wall flower. Don’t spend too much time in your hotel room. Go to the events. 4. Read the trade journals before and during the event to be sure you’re up to speed on what’s new. 5. Take notes relentlessly and follow up with each new contact within 10 days after the show is over. 6. If you are a supplier, by all means get some effective communications out to your prospective customers… Read more »
Mark Lilien
13 years 4 months ago

Yes trade shows can be worthwhile, but most are redundant wastes of time. And most exhibitors, seminars, and speeches are rewarmed mush with no wit, innovation or special value. When the Internet got popular, many trade shows got hit badly. And they deserved the hit. I was amused by the advice to attendees to speak to suppliers they don’t already do business with. I’ve long noticed that many suppliers are most eager to talk with their current customers, not prospects. It’s a lot easier to talk with your friends rather than make new friends.


Take Our Instant Poll

Will virtual trade shows replace physical trade shows in the retailing industry?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...