A virtual trade show is an online forum where marketers, vendors, and business representatives can interact in real time. The trade show usually takes place over a span of days on a dedicated website. In many respects, the virtual trade show experience is designed to mimic a real trade show as much as possible. Vendors frequently demonstrate their wares with streaming video, and answer questions over chat and video conferencing features. Participants can interact with each other and with merchants, and can forge new business relationships — all without ever having to travel.
Most ordinary trade shows are held in large expo centers, usually scheduled to coincide with major conferences, meetings, or trade conventions. Businesses will send representatives to trade shows to look for new products and contacts, and to learn about new trends. Virtual trade shows make travel unnecessary, and in some ways can actually improve vendors’ exposure to their target audiences.
In a virtual trade fair setting, businesses looking to learn new trade practices need do little more than register, log in, and begin exploring, all from their home or office computer. Online trade shows often offer group discounts for multiple attendees, which encourages businesses to spend more time and devote more resources to exploring the site. A virtual trade show can also usually be tailored for specific users, or filtered to showcase only certain categories of information.
Virtual trade shows are typically designed to mimic the actual trade show experience in both look and feel. The show’s homepage often serves as the main “exhibit hall,” where users can gather basic information on participants, vendors, and event schedules. Cyber lounges allow participants to mingle with and "meet" each other, and resource pages serve as document clearinghouses, where videos of presentations, recordings of lectures, and white papers and corporate specs of new products can be downloaded.
In most cases, everything is linked internally. All a user needs to do to visit a vendor’s virtual “booth,” for instance, is to click on the vendor’s name, either in the directory or in the resource section. At the booth, the user will be able to instant message with the booth moderator, ask questions, and get information. The vendor will also usually be able to track who the user is, where he or she is from, and in some cases, what other booths he or she visited.
The wealth of information that tracking technologies can provide is often one of the most valuable parts of online trade exhibitions. For vendors, identifying and targeting a specific sector of people is very important to sales. This is a lot easier to do online. Users can be profiled based on their interests, their company, and even their clicking pattern once in the virtual trade show.
Of course, profiling goes both ways. Registrants who are interested only in certain information can usually filter things like participant lists and resource documents to show only vendors in a certain sector. This can help participants make the most of their time at the virtual trade show.
The algorithms and technical details supporting virtual trade conventions continue to develop. With every passing year, virtual trade show technology grows, allowing for newer, smarter ways for information to be shared and disseminated. While there is still a place for traditional meet-and-greet trade shows, the virtual trade show market is emerging with a host of benefits all its own.