Face To Face vs. Virtual Trade Show - Aplus Expo

Face To Face vs. Virtual Trade Show: An Analysis

Note: All dates are subject to change in light of COVID-19

A trade show is an event organized for companies of a certain industry to exhibit their products to consumers and other interested parties. These events provide opportunities for companies to showcase and display products, especially where there are inventions. It is also an opening for companies to take a sneak peek at the competitors and the new trends in the market to have an idea on how to improve their products to be of standard.

Trade shows can either be industry expos; only industries and the press have access, consumer expos; open to the public, or mixed where both industries and the public are allowed. Nearly all trade shows exhibit their products on a face-to-face basis, but recently, more companies are embracing the evolving technology and switching to virtual trade shows.

Face-To-Face Trade Show

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This is a trade show that requires both displayers and attendees to be present physically for the event to go on.

History and current situation

The Great Exhibition held on May 1, 1851, in London is regarded as the father of modern trade shows and was the first recorded trade show in history. The idea behind it was to showcase the best products globally under one roof and this opened the way for modern expos. Currently, although some components have changed over the years, trade fairs are still considered as the best method to introduce new products into the market and demonstrate their usage.

Influence of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed many aspects of life and with social-distancing as one of the preventive measures, institutions have to adhere to the rules set by WHO and their respective governments. This has led to the cessation of social events. At the beginning of the crisis, there was an immense worry about how companies will showcase their products, for this reason, they diversified to virtual exhibitions.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Face-to-face exhibitions are a familiar way of executing trade shows and are preferred by a good number of people but they do not come without their drawbacks. A quick look at its pros and cons


  • It may be critical for consumers to touch and see some products and its only possible physically
  • Uninformed people may become potential customers when they spot your products while walking around
  • Meeting customers physically leads to the building of rapport
  • Easier to determine prospects from visitors


  • Costly since they run for several days/months hence increasing expenses
  • Attendance fee may discourage potentials and if free they still spend on transportation and meals
  • It might be detrimental to the environment

Virtual Trade Shows

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A virtual trade show is an online type of exhibition that allows companies to display their goods and interact with a virtual audience on the web. They use 3D demonstrations which simulate a physical environment making it feel like a face-to-face trade show.

History and Current Situation

The origin of virtual events dates back to 1993 when Alan Saperstein and Randy Selman were the first people to broadcast videos commercially. It has gained popularity ever since especially in late 2000. Industries especially those concerned with gaming are adopting these because it gives them an easier way of demonstrating to their audience.

Influence of COVID-19

In the wake of COVID-19, many social events were cancelled and institutions were being pressured to adapt to virtual exhibitions. Most of these organizations were previously opposed to the idea of an online exhibition but when push comes to shove one needs to step up or incur losses.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Online exhibitions are not for everyone despite that one has to know its advantages and disadvantages before dismissing it


  • No travelling expenses just you and your computer
  • Reaches a wider audience
  • The expo can be accessed later online
  • It is reasonable in terms of cost
  • There is minimal impact on the environment


  • No rapport created between sellers and buyers
  • The online audience get easily distracted
  • Prone to connectivity issues or malfunctions

Major Virtual and Hybrid Events Platform

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A virtual event is complete participation virtually either via live stream, video conferencing, or other methods. A hybrid event is partial virtual participation where some audiences are present physically but the majority interact virtually. Various platforms host such events;


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An online platform where you can create virtual events that connect people worldwide. It has been optimized to meet all the requirements expected in an online platform as participants can move in and out of the room. This minimizes drop-offs.


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Comprises features like live streaming, pre-recorded sessions, live chart, gamification, and others.


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Hubilo is a leader in the virtual and hybrid events platform. It aids institutions globally in event hosting by connecting people globally through its platform.

Online vs Offline Trade Show

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As the name suggests, Online trade shows are held virtually while offline are held face to face. Although there are similarities between the two, we cannot deny the obvious contrast.


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Whether you are hosting an online or offline exhibit, finances are a big part of the process and the companies have to budget wisely.

Online trade shows: have low expenses but the organization will still spend on software and internet services because they need to be of quality to sustain them throughout the event. Other expenses come in terms of employee payments and external event organizers that may have been used.

Offline trade shows: it is a bit costly compared to online expos since there are many things to be considered like booths, booth space, transportation, installing, and dismantling.


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The excitement and the exposure manufacturers and consumers feel when attending trade shows goes a long way in aiding brands names in the future

Online expos: one thing guaranteed in online exhibitions is comfortability whether at home or workspace but one may miss out on the excitement experienced in face-to-face trade shows.

Offline expos: even with the rise in virtual exhibitions, offline trade shows will never be faced out because most people visit these expos just for the experience and interaction they get.


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Incorporation of technology in events is becoming mandatory whether it is an offline or online exhibition.

Online exhibition: using 3D virtual reality is important since the external environment must be mimicked perfectly to sustain the audience’s attention throughout the event. The latest software should be brought into play to achieve this.

Offline trade shows: new booth designs are coming up left, right and centre, and what better way to showcase your goods? Companies are using modern and eco-friendly booth designs to attract prospects into their space.

Flexibility and Accessibility

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Flexibility and accessibility are major factors of a successful trade show in that consumers will not concern themselves if a booth or website is not accessible.

Online trade shows: this is the most flexible exhibit since it can be accessed anywhere and anytime. Consumers do not have to worry about missing out.

Offline trade shows: they might not be as flexible as online, but new trends in the market are trying hard to meet this need. Portable booth design allows for flexibility, especially for the organizers. Setting up booths in a space where is accessible to potential buyers is important.

Event Management

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Poorly managed events lead to failure, companies have to be cautious while choosing event planners.

Online trade shows: it might seem there is little work in organizing an online exhibit but a lot of work needs to be put in place for a smooth and successful expo. Planning has to be done in advance, understanding your target audience, setting up your budget, and video/audio for effective communication.

Offline trade shows: the organizing team has to set a budget, renting or buying of booths, knowing the booth sizes that will be able to accommodate all your needs, the lighting of trade show booths and the type of flooring to be used. All these must be done in advance for a successful event.

The Future of Trade Shows

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A look into the future and how it is going to affect either virtual or face-to-face trade shows.

The Future of In-Person and Virtual Trade Show

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No one knows what the future holds but by analyzing past and current trends you will get an idea of what to expect and prepare appropriately for it. Trade shows will grow and get even better since they play a vital role in industries and the economy at large. In-person trade shows offer experiences that one may not get in virtual events and for this reason, I believe they will never be outdated although some elements may change to accommodate new trends.

Virtual trade shows, on the other hand, might be incorporated into in-person events since it is gaining popularity, however, a big chunk of manufacturers and consumers will still prefer a fully virtual experience.

Why will virtual trade shows complement and enhance rather than replace the in-person ones?

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Several reasons are supporting this;

  • Need for human interactions
  • The experience of in-person events
  • Easily improvised
  • Minimal distractions for your audience

Combining Offline Trade Shows and Virtual Reality

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Companies are using more innovative ways to showcase their products and also lure possible consumers to their booths. How is this achieved? Incorporating virtual reality into your traditional in-person booth is an extraordinary idea that has helped industries elevate customer’s experience. The combination of virtual reality in offline exhibitions has several benefits;

  • Heightens user experience
  • Cuts the cost of setting up many items
  • Improves sales
  • Enables showcasing of more products
  • Creates buzz


Every commercial entity has one major goal in mind, profit. This is the fuel that runs these organizations. After putting in work in innovations, productions the only remaining job is marketing. Advertising goods on televisions, radios, and social media is not enough one needs to engage with audiences one on one to maximize sales and this is where trade shows come in. Over the years there have been many changes in exhibitions and companies are adopting these changes positively.

Face-to-face and virtual shows are giving manufacturers a platform to showcase their goods to their customers and increasing their profits as a result. For more information on trade shows check out our website and feel free to ask questions where necessary.

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