Guest column: Why trade shows could soon be taken online

Foodservice Online Managing Director Richard Fletcher explains why it could it be time for some wholesalers to embrace digital when talking to customers

The format for a food and drink wholesaler’s annual trade show is normally the same. Suppliers are asked to buy exhibition space and the host – the wholesaler – invites customers to look, taste and take advantage of on-the-day deals. It’s a tried and tested model. But there are some major issues with the approach.

For a start, not all customers and suppliers can attend, not to mention that order placement can be sluggish and deadlines tight to deliver them. Personalising the experience for each customer is also difficult. Then when you add time of year, staffing and logistics, wholesalers face an uphill struggle to make their trade shows work commercially. This is where e-commerce can help.

By simply using a temporary website to take customer orders relating to the trade show, you can replace on-the-day ordering. The website, which would be live only for a limited time, is used by customers to view offers and access personalised information which helps them to make faster and more effective purchasing decisions.

Going online makes it easier and more convenient to place trade show orders. For those who attend, the pressure lifts and the on-the-day experience improves. While for those who don’t attend, it allows them to place orders online, therefore increasing your sales potential.

As a result, it’s also likely that you’ll achieve higher average order values. Very few customers come to a trade show fully prepared to make the most of the offers. Going online allows you to better leverage the data you hold on your customers to make alarmingly accurate purchasing recommendations.

By simply presenting ‘Products You’ve Ordered Before’ or ‘Your Most Popular Products’, you are making it easier for customers to place orders. You can inform customers of their savings by calculating the difference between normal and trade-show prices. By displaying these savings as products added to a basket, the ordering process becomes addictive, while also removing constrictions of space, which allows you to promote an unlimited number of suppliers and products. An increase in supplier revenue soon follows.

With attendance costing up to £10,000, inviting as many suppliers as possible is a no-brainer – but not if you don’t have the space. Going online removes this obstacle and allows suppliers to support your event even if they don’t attend. And when suppliers see how effective your online trade show is, they will be rushing back with additional support in the future. By offering a more convenient and engaging customer experience, your business is under less pressure to use deep discounts to generate interest.

And technology also presents an opportunity to increase profit using dynamic pricing, where rather than blanket pricing, discounts are linked to customer categories or previously agreed pricing. If you have gone to the effort of hosting an exhibition and delivering an amazing online experience, you want to make sure your best customers are taking advantage of everything you’re doing.

It amazes me how key customers fail to place trade show orders. No matter how hard you try, customers never fail to come up with an excuse why they didn’t place an order. By going online, you gain greater visibility of your customers’ behaviour, empowering your sales teams to do something about it. This is a great way to add value to your service and reiterate your commitment to looking after your customers’ interests, but this time at your suppliers’ expense. When it comes to sales, the best form of defence is attack.

If you have the capability to host a trade show online and your competitors don’t, you are in a position of strength. Counteract your competitors’ trade shows by hosting your own online flash sales. Win on customer experience by offering them a far more convenient route to trade show offers.

Foodservice Online Richard Fletcher