As International Market Centers puts a hold on its mammoth traditional trade shows in Atlanta, Las Vegas and North Carolina because of the pandemic, it’s attracting more participants on its ShopZio digital commerce platform.

The High Point Market Authority, the sponsor and organizer of industry trade shows connecting thousands of manufacturers and buyers in High Point, North Carolina, said today it will close the spring events held in millions of square feet of exhibit and showroom space and reopen them in October.

Increased interest in digital trade shows

The interruption in those physical shows, meanwhile, is coinciding with increased interest in the ShopZio digital commerce platform, which is operated by IMC_di, the digital division of International Market Centers, a major operator of High Point Market trade shows.

We want to facilitate the interaction between B2B buyers and sellers through an omnichannel platform that reduces transactional friction.
Eric Dean, president
IMC_di

IMC also operates two other mammoth industry trade shows: the Atlanta Market for apparel, home décor and gift products; and the Las Vegas Market for furniture, home décor and gift products.

The Atlanta and Las Vegas markets, like High Point, are temporarily closed because of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In its latest updates regarding Atlanta and Las Vegas, IMC says their next scheduled physical shows are set for July.

In response to the need for more digital B2B buying and selling tools amid the pandemic, IMC_di said on April 2 that it would do away with ShopZio subscription and transaction fees for the remainder of this year. Since then, the company has received 200 new requests to register on ShopZio. When those requests are processed, the number of registered vendors will have tripled to 300 from 100, an IMC_di spokeswoman says.

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Blending physical and digital commerce

EricDean

Eric Dean, president, IMC_di

“We want to facilitate the interaction between B2B buyers and sellers through an omnichannel platform that reduces transactional friction and improves the user experience for buyers and sellers while conforming to industry norms” of how industry trade shows operate, says Eric Dean, president of IMC_di. With the pandemic prompting trade shows to close, he added, IMC-di decided to “accelerate the pace of ShopZio.”

About 185 suppliers overall have adopted the ShopZio platform, which connects them to 35,000 active buyers who are generating millions of dollars in monthly online transactions, IMC says.

The ShopZio platform was designed to facilitate product and resource discovery via digital marketplaces, and eventually trade shows, as well as process ecommerce transactions. Buyers will be able to purchase online or in-person through a single account, thereby enabling buyers to move between digital and physical sales channels when purchasing, Dean says.

For example, a buyer initiating product discovery at a physical trade show can complete the process online, or vice versa. IMC_di designed this process to support both traditional trade shows and digital commerce venues, Dean says. “We see no need to disrupt the market,” he adds.

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Keeping sales reps involved

International Market Centers, operates a total of nearly 20 million square feet of exhibit and showroom space for furniture, gift, home décor, rug, and apparel suppliers across its facilities in High Point, Atlanta and Las Vegas.

As part of its strategy to retain traditional B2B sales processes online, sales representatives will have the opportunity to be involved in the purchasing process through the ShopZio platform. Sellers will also have the opportunity to vet buyers so they can maintain some exclusivity with their clients.

Once a buyer is granted access to a seller’s virtual showroom, they search for and purchase products through an online checkout process. Sellers can accept a credit card or offer alternative purchasing options, such as invoicing. Credit cards accepted for purchase are tokenized and routed through a PCI-compliant server compliant with the credit card industry’s PCI-DSS data security standard.

Tokenization replaces actual cardholder data with random numbers so that no sensitive account data is exposed online. Actual card data is securely stored by the card issuer, which authorizes the transaction. PCI compliance ensures the network over which payment data is sent meets the standards required by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council to prevent credit card fraud.

Staying in business during the pandemic

A big reason why IMC_di opted to waive subscription and transactions is to ease the financial burden on buyers and sellers as they scramble to reinvent how they do business during the coronavirus epidemic, Dean says. “A lot of our customers are already fighting for business,” he says. “This is a way to help keep them financially healthy and doing business until the economic recovery starts.”

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IMC_di is also offering more assistance to sales reps, including through an April 15 webinar, “Navigating Remote Selling While Markets are on Pause,” with members of the Gift and Home Trade Association.

Suppliers registering for ShopZio include gift vendors Catherine Lillywhite’s, Golden Rabbit, and The Whitehurst Co. Home products vendors include Amity Home, BedInABox, Kalco Lighting Ltd., and Simply Amish. Apparel vendors include Callie B Wholesale, Chic Star, and Lucky Feather.

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Danah Hurst, director of sales and customer care, Park Hill Collection

“During these uncertain times, we are striving to give our customers the very best tools to explore and buy product,” Danah Hurst, director of sales and customer care for Park Hill Collection, says in press release IMC issued last week.

IMC formed IMC_di and absorbed ShopZio through its acquisitions of Pharos, an integrated sales, marketing and commissioning software designed for the gift and home furnishings industry; and RepZio, a patented business-to-business sales solution and digital marketplace that enables wholesale vendors and buyers to connect and transact. Dean, who founded Pharos, is also the founder and chairman of Whereoware, a digital design agency that helps brands sell through e-commerce.

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In addition to connecting buyers and sellers digitally, IMC’s market websites, AmericasMart.com, IMCHightPointMarket.com and LasVegasMarket.com, let users link directly from their sites to the ShopZio platform. More than three million unique visitors log onto IMC’s marketplaces annually, IMC says.

Having existing relationships with buyers and sellers through IMC’s marketplaces helps strengthen ShopZio’s position, Dean says. “Those relationships make us a trusted entity,” he adds.

Plans to market ShopZio include regular communications with buyers and sellers, ads, social media and email.
Looking ahead, IMC_di plans to develop virtual trade shows that complement IMC’s physical shows. When IMC’s physical trade shows re-open, they may have a different look and feel, given what, if any, restrictions on social distancing may remain in place as the economy reopens, the company says. IMC is posting COVID-19 updates on its websites.

New virtual trade show app

Virtual trade shows, meanwhile, are gaining traction as social distancing practices are being put in place across the country. Perenso, a B2B sales platform provider, recently announced the release of a virtual trade show app called Perenso Cloud Show.

Perenso says the app can help companies retain trade show revenue that might otherwise be lost. Features include event registration, online ordering and education.

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Given the extent of the virus pandemic’s disruption to the economy, development of more digital B2B market places, trade shows and sales tools is likely, IMC executives say.

“The world has gone from digital transformation to digital imperative,” says Brandon Ward, senior vice president for IMC-di. “We intended a gradual roll-out of our platform and other tools, but the market changed quickly and we had to accelerate the pace.”

Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.

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