Why Trade Shows Need E-commerce to Survive

Networking is nice, but is it enough?

Vinit Patil


Zoel Fages, owner of Perch, a home and lifestyle store in San Francisco is still on the fence about attending trade shows. Or even if it’s necessary in this post-Covid, buy-from-home era.

Last year Zoel spent most of his budget at various alternative venues ranging from Trade Show portals like Shoppe Object, to Marketplaces like Tundra and Faire to direct buys on Instagram.

A pattern that’s been unraveling way before the pandemic.

The trends show that if trade shows continue their trajectory, they’ll start to lose attendees. The rumblings were already there, only amplified by pandemic forces.

Traditionally vendors plan for tradeshows to successfully close sales and generate leads in a relaxed face-to-face environment.

In the new normal, these objectives can be met in a number of different ways. and shows are still experimenting with the best cocktail of onsite and now increasingly, online.

Shows are exploring an online strategy in several ways:

  • Registration
  • Online Product Showcase Only
  • Thought Leadership Webinars
  • AI Driven Match making
  • E-commerce and Procurement
  • All of the Above

Matchmaking promises to draw on machine learning. However, the amount of data required to make meaningful connections is still tiny.

Most of the profile matches are made based on the forms filled out by vendors and buyers during sign-up. Your matches come down to the information you’re willing to provide the app.

Matching algorithms are especially useful for tradeshows where buyers are unable to see the final product — like services Accounting, Development, etc.

But for trade shows where you can buy things that can be put on a retail shelf, buyers just don’t see the point of matchmaking. Especially when all products are laid out before them.

Unless there is some advantage in match making I’m not seeing, then no, not interested. Not sure why we’d want that when it’s all laid out before us and we can look and decide for ourselves.

-Patty Brunn, Co-owner, Maison D’etre

True matchmaking requires gobs of data between both the vendors and buyers. It would probably require a few seasons of interactions to start making matching truly meaningful.

But imagine a different scenario. A buyer like Patty logs in to the trade show portal and remotely checks out the assortment from her shop on College Avenue. She filters through the vendors who would be a good fit.

Then watches the latest collections drop via video conferencing.

Then buys it online right from the show’s e-procurement process, sending over a PO with an attached tokenized credit card.

Now in addition to powerful leads, vendors can actually attribute a sale to the trade show.

According to a survey by Joor, 70% of B2B decision-makers are open to remote purchases in excess of $50,000.

27% in excess of $500,000.

What buyers want is the ability to shop for products and not have to wait around for inquiries every time.

Which is why trade shows like Shoppe Object, Cabana and Capsule went full tilt with a robust e-commerce and procurement suite. Full disclosure, Ribbon is the e-commerce platform for Shoppe Object.

Introducing e-commerce as part of a full omnichannel strategy into your show offering gives an advantage.

Why E-commerce?

If the goal is to successfully close sales and generate leads in a relaxed face-to-face environment, the objectives are amplified in an omni-channel environment.

1. The Leads are Stronger

If networking delivers leads, then e-commerce delivers leads on nitrous. And year-round.

The lifecycle of a hybrid offering comprises visiting the profile (booth) and then favoriting a product and then adding to the cart. The final step is creating a purchase order.

Compared to making an inquiry or just networking, adding a product to a cart demonstrates strong intent and invariably a stronger lead.

Even onsite, the vendors should also be able to facilitate the procurement at the venue through a tablet experience.

Which is one more lead recorded by the trade show.

2. Closing Sales is Faster

In an era of instant gratification, why should wholesale buying get left behind. To reiterate, 70% of buyers prefer to complete the purchase online if given a choice. Due to the growth of wholesale marketplaces, buyers have grown accustomed to buying online instead of spending hours networking. The average order size for the top ten buyers is now $50,000 upto $500,000.

The idea of sending an inquiry, deliberating over the min order amount, requesting samplers gets cut down reducing the sales cycles from 3 weeks to 3 minutes.

The Sales Cycle Gets Cut Down From 3 Weeks to 3 Mins when buyers can buy instantly.

The ability to create draft orders and send credit cards in a secure manner gives buyers a new level of confidence.

3. Networking Can Happen Post Sales

Just like dating, once a buyer is comfortable with the supplier's product, then it makes sense to dig deeper into the relationship.

Or else, buyers who choose not to reorder will have to bear the awkwardness of facing a supplier they were originally paired up with. Breakups are never fun. The buy before you buy A LOT is a safer model. Patterns and interactions recorded during these sales will make matchmaking data truly reliable for future networking.

4. Show Operators Can Create A New Source of Revenue

Unlike networking which has upfront costs but no guarantee for a sale, e-commerce has a clear resolution.

Vendors can spend upto $5–10K on furniture and booth dressings. When vendors realize the tradeshows can deliver more value through a hybrid experience, a small extra percentage of that on digital feels negligible.

In their third season, Shoppe Object, New York’s semiannual independent home and gift show saw a 20% growth in vendor signups and 26% increase in sales season over season by focusing on an omnichannel e-commerce strategy. A fifth of the vendors opted for online only.

Sales are trending up with data from two seasons clearly showing the buyer’s preference.

In the next post, we’ll illustrate the challenges with Introducing E-commerce and how some of our trade show partners are rising to the new business normal.

Vinit Patil is the CEO/ Co-founder of Ribbon, a Multi-line E-commerce platform for Sales Agencies and Tradeshows. visit meetribbon.com/request-demo



Vinit Patil
Editor for

CEO@Ribbon Commerce The Beautiful B2B. Previously @Box @akqa @gyro