E-commerce is the buzzword on the industry's lips right now, with so many brick-and-mortar stores closing and longstanding retail institutions, namely department stores, investing heavily into their e-commerce and digital operations. For independent retailers and small shops, trade shows have been a way to discover new brands outside of the mainstream. For independent brands it was a way to get new accounts and begin to grow their business.
However, like with virtually most industries at this point, the internet era has changed what trade shows used to be. This season at Project and Mrket, vendors were able to pick up new accounts, but many acknowledge the decline in foot traffic. "Traffic has been slower than normal and slower than anticipated for us this season," said Zach Gross, account manager at 7 For All Mankind, to FashionUnited. "Likewise, a lot of stuff can get accomplished digital, whether it's appointments or showroom appointments, e-commerce is definitely a point of emphasis for a lot of partners and competitors."
Gross said that recently he has been seeing more e-commerce buyers at the trade shows and companies who are pitching a drop-ship type of model. Emphasis on digital platforms has grown, although brands, like 7 For All Mankind, continue to put emphasis on both digital and brick-and-mortar. "Brick-and-mortar isn't going to die out from a retail perspective," Gross said to FashionUnited. "The issue with department stores is how do you get the customer back. Is it with activations? Is it with customer experience?"
Kristin Deluca, account executive at Ted Baker for men's sportswear, shared some of Gross's sentiments. "Trade show's traffic has become a little slower because these smaller stores are not able to maybe buy as much as they want to in the past because shoppers are shopping online," she said to FashionUnited. "They have to cut their budgets because people are shopping elsewhere."
Deluca says she has seen more buyers from e-commerce only channels, but currently Ted Baker keeps a very tight distribution online and are looking to keep that tight distribution. The company is looking to eventually expand that online distribution to other stores, compared to a few select stores right now.
In contrast, some brands have felt no negative affects from e-commerce. Velvet by Graham Spencer says they have seen growth in their e-commerce segment, but it has had no affect on their brick-and-mortar sales. The brand's business model is unique from other vendors in that they are primarily showroom and appointment based, so they only bring so many brands to the trade show.
This season the brand was able to take on more accounts than they had in the past, and most of them were brick-and-mortar. "For us it's more about trying to attracting an elevated customer, rather than trying to be mass," said Francisco Hernandez, sales manager for Velvet Graham, to FashionUnited. Companies with more exclusive products still stand to benefit from trade shows from buyers looking to a more elevated clientele who still shop brick-and-mortar.
Although trade shows might not be seeing the traffic they used to, they still prove to be an integral part of the retail business. Trade show organizers will need to take more of an emphasis on courting e-commerce buyers in the future, and vendors will also need to respond accordingly by widening their online distribution.
photos: courtesy of Agentry PR