Virtual Trade-Shows vs. Face to Face Events

Can virtual trade shows ever really take over from traditional face-to-face events?

A virtual trade-show is a trade event run online. Equivalent to a traditional exhibition, they mimic the traditional trade show style, right down to the entrance into the exhibition hall. Exhibitors and visitors can connect from anywhere, no matter what their geographic location, and costs for everybody are drastically reduced.

As businesses look for ways to stretch budgets and reduce time away from desks, virtual exhibitions are quickly becoming popular, but how do they stack up against the traditional face-to-face format?

Virtual trade shows are more suitable for certain industries than others. For gaming industries, virtual trade shows are already established and likely to grow in popularity, however for industries such as clothing, manufacturing and services, research shows that customers need and want the full sensory experience. This is difficult to achieve in a virtual environment. Face-to-face gives exhibitors a chance to demonstrate the benefits of their products and to read the body language of their prospective customers: socialising and building a face-to-face relationship is crucial in building brand trust in many industries.

Another issue that can arise with a virtual trade-show is that there’s room for distractions. Face-to-face events are the best option for capturing attention: attendees have fewer distractions on an exhibition stand and are less tempted to check e-mails or do other tasks than they would be whilst sat at a desk. Casual browsing is limited too. At traditional events, people will commonly walk around the halls and stop at any booth that interests them. Things can easily be missed online.

An interesting study by Cornell University has shown that virtual trade shows generate far fewer leads than traditional trade-show stands. Despite this, all attendee’s information is stored in an online database making it easier for the exhibitors to follow up with prospective customers after the event. Attendees can download exhibitors’ services too, making it easier to come back to weeks, or even months, later.

When looking at the pros and cons of virtual trade-shows, we don’t believe they will ever fully replace the traditional format in anything but a few sectors. We do, however, see a future where exhibitors and conference organisers will integrate more virtual aspects into their events and stands, taking the best that the technology has to offer while retaining all the benefits of face-to-face interaction. The virtual trade show may never completely replace the in-person event, but it is a growing trend in the industry and there is an opportunity for both sides to learn from each other.