Trade shows go phygital
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Perspectives: Digital tools for trade shows

Trade shows go phygital

The fusion of online and offline is progressing. The trade show of the future is phygital - digital tools add to physical encounters and offer exhibitors and visitors an added value. This summer's editions of Neonyt and Texworld USA gave insight into the event of the future - live interviews and digital panel discussions connected the communities and provided information about current industry issues.

July 2020

Between crisis and new opportunities: Covid-19 has disrupted the world's social and economic for many months now. The consequences of the pandemic are affecting the trade show business as well. Many trade shows were postponed, some will not take place at all. "As long as get-togethers in person are possible only to a very limited extent, we have to define virtual formats, which can bridge this time of social distancing," Olaf Schmidt, Vice President Textiles and Textile Technologies at Messe Frankfurt, said in April. How is it possible to stay in contact with each other despite the ban on major events? How can the different business sectors get through these difficult times better? Digital solutions help. In Germany, digitalisation has been slow. But the Corona pandemic shows us what the world could look like in the future: business calls instead of business trips, working from home instead of travelling, agility instead of stiffness. The time is ripe to rethink and find new approaches to the way we work.

Online and onsite

The virtual summer editions of some trade shows, which have united the different industries, have shown what these new approaches could look - live and in colour, but safe while being at home. Texworld USA, Apparel Sourcing USA and Home Textiles Sourcing Expo offered an online platform from 21st to 23rd July 2020. Talks, presentations and seminars allowed participants to connect and provided them with information about current industry issues. An artificially intelligent programme helped online visitors find suppliers of interest and put them in contact with them. Gartex India is keeping interested parties up to date with webinars about sustainability in the clothing and textile industry until its comeback in December.

The summer edition of Neonyt, the global hub for fashion, sustainability and innovation, also went digital this year. From 13th to 17th July 2020, Neonyt's social media channels and those of international conference format Fashionsustain turned into a platform for the exchange of information, with live interviews, panel discussions and statements. At "Neonyt on Air", experts discussed business, lifestyle and digitalisation issues and proved once again that lockdowns not necessarily have to stop networking within the fashion industry. Industry masterminds have explained how digital tools can help to transform fashion in the coming years: "Digitalisation will become as common place in the fashion industry as sustainability," The Brand Show Circular founder and CEO Saydou Bangoura said during a panel discussion at Neonyt on Air. The Brand Show Circular is a B2B marketing and order platform focused on sustainable fashion. Exhibitors and buyers can meet in the digital world and do business independently from time and place. Wholesale and data exchange platform JOOR has the same goal. JOOR connects 8,600 brands with 2,600 buyers. Together with Premium Group, JOOR created virtual showroom JOOR Passport, which was presented at Neonyt on Air. "In the face of continued business disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a great need to bring technology to revolutionize the market and to reimagine the trade show and fashion week model," said JOOR CEO Kristin Savilia. Neonyt’s cooperation with The Brand Show Circular and JOOR gives exhibitors the opportunity to use all digital services the B2B platforms offer and helps them bridge the time without onsite events until things go back to normal. Online trading sites allow visitors to place orders with exhibitors all year round. This concept replaces manual on-site orders, which cost money and time and leave more time to exchange information. Messe Frankfurt’s Nextrade is a successful example – the digital B2B marketplace for Home and Living consumer goods has been online since October 2019. “The many positive reactions and registrations by suppliers show that we have our finger on the pulse of time,” says Philipp Ferger, general director of nmedia and head of Tendence and Nordstil. With Nextrade, Messe Frankfurt has expanded the offer of Ambiente and Tendence. Both retailers and buyers profit.

Digital helpers

New digital concepts launched by trade shows as well as new approaches taken by the industry show what the future could look like – it could be flexible, digital and dynamic. Virtual trade show concepts are a good alternative when personal encounters are not possible, but they will not be able to replace on-site events. “Fashion thrives from personalities, presentation and image and inspiration. Digital formats can be a plus, but not a substitute,” says Thimo Schwenzfeuer, Show Director of Neonyt. The industry’s desire to meet in person is great. The digital formats launched by trade shows can offer many possibilities. Phygital trade shows, meaning trade shows that are both physical and digital, complement the traditional trade show concept.

Whether it is the planning, the organisation or the follow-up of trade shows, technical means also make the on-site trade show experience more enjoyable. In the run-up to an event, digital tools help exhibitors and organisers to plan their trade show presence. Online configurations can help exhibitors to improve their stand presentation to the point of being exactly what they have in mind. In addition, match-making tools helping visitors to find suppliers of interest even before the event begins, prove to be a real advantage. The website offers an alignment of interests – exhibitors provide information about their products and target groups on the programme and visitors specify their interests. In a next step, the tool puts the parties into contact.

Which parts of trade shows and exhibitions are the best attended? Which trade show participants are interested in which products and services? Cameras and heat maps are used to analyse the influx of visitors. Exhibitors can use the resulting information to make their trade show presence even more effective, organisers can place stands in the best possible place. It also makes the managing of purely pragmatic aspects like technical building systems, security or cleaning easier. When the number of visitors to the toilets reaches a high number, the cleaning staff is automatically informed.

Flyers, leaflets and posters – that was yesterday. Today, digital wayfinding systems help visitors to find their way around the exhibition centre. Displays or apps provide visitors with specific information, which prevents them from getting lost in an information overload while searching for a specific stand. Long queues, missed appointments or stressed trade show visitors are a thing of the past.

New realities

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) prove to be an asset for an overall trade show experience. VR is an artificial reality created by hardware and software. “Virtual Reality was originally considered as a possible competitor to the trade show as a communication medium,” says Dr Peter Neven, general director of the exhibition and trade show committee of Deutsche Wirtschaft e.V. “It has now become clear that trade shows will continue to be an important tool for personal encounters between companies and their target groups in the future. The popularity of trade shows remains high,” Mr Neven continued. VR glasses can add to the trade show experience. How can I use the chosen material in my collection? Does the fabric fit my design? Visitors no longer have to imagine what products look like, they can now actually see them through a pair of VR glasses. By means of AR, an expanded form of reality, visitors can use apps to get additional information about products or take part in digital tours and lectures. At gaming trade shows the use of this kind of software is already common practice.

3D printing, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence – technology has even more chances and possibilities in place to turn the simple attendance at a trade show into a true trade show experience. It is not only about digitalising old processes, but also about creating new ones. Trade shows not only have to present modern products and innovations, they need to be living examples. The trade shows of the future will be phygital – digital tools will complement physical events. As the digital editions of trade shows have shown, meeting and exchanging information in person onsite remain to be crucial. Digital offers add to physical events but cannot replace them. It is time to mould the trade show of the future.

Sarah Malik

#Digitalisation #Neonyt #Fashionsustain #Gartex Texprocess India #Texworld USA #Apparel Sourcing USA #Home Textiles Sourcing Expo #The Brand Show Circular #Joor #Nextrade #Virtual #Phygital #Virtual Reality #Augmented Reality

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Foto: Lucrezia Carnelos


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