One positive development from the coronavirus crisis is sellers now have a better appreciation of the many benefits online exhibition offers. Chai Hua reports from Shenzhen.
Livestreaming, which has offered a silver lining for both the Chinese mainland's offline and online retail market in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, is stirring up a craze in the exhibition-and-fairs industry.
Dubbed the "barometer" of the mainland's foreign trade, the China Import and Export Fair, or Canton Fair - the mainland's oldest and largest trade showpiece of its kind - has been a magnet for some 25,000 participants from dozens of countries and regions each time, but this year, what's awaiting them is its first ever online exhibition due to the global public-health crisis that has left hardly any country unscathed.
One unique feature of this year's fair, which has been staged in the spring and autumn each year since 1957 in the Guangdong provincial capital, Guangzhou, will be a round-the-clock livestreaming for exhibitors to promote their products to global buyers. Suppliers of a wide array of products, ranging from large electronic equipment to exquisite spoons and plates, are making the final push as the online debut is scheduled next week.
They believe that livestreaming is likely to be a long-term strategy that will usher in a fresh wave of foreign trade fairs, waving the magic wand that has defined the domestic retail business.
Go with the tide
"We're making adequate preparations for the livestreaming exhibition. The capital investment will be as much, if not more than, that for the previous Canton Fair," said Pan Jianzhong, general manager of Shenzhen Forrest Health Equipments Co.
The global supplier of massage gear has built up a brand new live video studio, covering an area of more than 100 square meters. Various decoration settings are available for introducing different products.
"Livestreaming offers a better understanding of our history and culture, a bonus of the innovative format compared to traditional fairs," Pan told China Daily.
Therefore, besides showcasing products, the company will also be introducing itself on camera, leveraging three-dimensional virtual reality technology for clients to have direct experience of its factories and offices.
The company's sales and product design teams with more than 30 employees are making the joint effort and, if it turns out well, a designated livestreaming unit will be set up.
Pan said hosts of retail live shows are trained to induce viewers' desire to buy, but hosts for enterprise procurement ought to excel in professional industry knowledge, such as industrial chain and market projects.
Livestreaming in Chinese, English and Korean has been arranged in designated time slots.
It would also be the first time for clients to try out livestreaming. Pan believes traditional manufacturers, like his company, need to seize the opportunity to go with the tide.
"Livestream marketing for overseas clients will be the future trend, and this year's Canton Fair gives us an opportunity to transform," he said.
In Pan's view, online exhibitions and livestreaming represent the digitalization of an industry chain. Like the conventional Canton Fair, buyers can save much capital and labor resources by striking a deal directly with first-hand supply sources.
Moreover, prices and product information offered on an internet-based fair are more transparent, which is both a "challenge and opportunity for us", he said.
Li Xia, founder and general manager of Shenzhen Power Solution Industrial Co - an integrated solar lighting solution provider - is excited about being among the first to join a livestreaming exhibition in the foreign-trade industry.
Since April, she has been busy preparing two livestreaming studios, video-shooting equipment and a high-quality communication network besides cherry-picking English-speaking hosts.
The company plans to have two to three teams taking turns for non-stop livestreaming in which all of its employees will participate. Apart from product promotion, the video presentation will include raw material examination, production lines, testing processes and logistics arrangement.
As for costs, Li's company has a different story - it's much less than attending the offline fair, which is especially helpful in such a tough economic environment.
While saving costs, the supplier still expects to attract more new clients from multiple industries and markets. "I hope our livestreaming program can leave a deep impression on them," said Li.
"As for regular customers, the new attempt will also surprise them," she said, hoping their innovative spirit and ability could inspire new opportunities.
However, Li is worried about the outcome as it's still a pioneering endeavor in the foreign trading sector. "We provide lighting solutions mainly for a bottom of the pyramid population, and the Canton Fair is very popular among such clients because of the one-stop purchase experience. But I'm not sure if they're aware of, or could accept the concept of a 'Smart Canton Fair' and livestreaming selling."
Even so, she's confident that livestreaming could be a new model of global trading as the coronavirus outbreak provides an opportunity for them to become familiar with it.
About 25,000 companies from home and abroad will promote their products online, and live video marketing is available to all companies and overseas buyers, said Li Xingqian, director of the Ministry of Commerce's foreign trade department.
Li said organizing the online event is "not only a practical measure to deal with the pandemic, but also an innovative development for the traditional fair".
The fair's livestream platform is backed by mainland internet giant Tencent Holdings. Last month, the Shenzhen-based company launched a new array of cloud-exhibition solutions, covering 3D exhibitions, smart venues and video conferencing.
Rita Zeng, vice-president of Tencent Cloud, said the pandemic has hastened the exhibition industry's digitalization process, but the trend is also an inevitable product of the digital economy's development.
Alibaba Group also announced the setting of a new digital expo company in May.
According to a report by US-based Market Research Media, the traditional conference and trade show market will continue to adopt virtual technology to either replace physical events where attendance is lagging, or complement physical events.