Trade Shows — Traditional Face-to-Face vs. Virtual

Recently after attending a virtual trade show, I got to thinking, “which is more effective —traditional face-to-face or virtual trade shows?”

I did some research on the Web and posed a question using the LinkedIn “Answers” function. Here are some of my findings.

Customer / Vendor Interface

Traditional Face-to-Face Trade Show

Businesswoman and Businessman Shaking HandsPeople like to do business with people they know. The opportunity to meet face-to-face and make personal connections at a traditional trade show cannot be beat.

  • It’s a chance to give existing and potential customers a sneak preview of new products and get feedback on concept ideas.
  • In person, salespeople may be able to determine serious prospects from visitors just trying to collect trade show give-away items (also known as swag or bling).

Virtual Trade Show

Anyone with an Internet connection can participate in a virtual trade show. No travel required. Vendors may be able to reach a wider audience.

  • Virtual trade shows are 2D or 3D. A 3D environment resembles a “real” trade show where visitors can “walk” into a booth and “talk” to a company representative.
  • The virtual platform lends itself to a broad range of applications beyond trade shows such as workshops, training sessions, and customer meetings.

Show and Tell

Traditional Face-to-Face Trade Show

Depending on the product, it may be critical that customers can see and touch it, and watch how it works. This cannot be duplicated in the virtual world, at least not yet.

  • Companies have an opportunity to showcase their organization and strut their stuff.
  • By walking around, potential customers may see something new that sparks their interest.

Virtual Trade Show

Some products do not need to be seen in-person and make good candidates for virtual trades shows, perhaps products in the service arena.

  • Potential customers not familiar with a product would not visit a company’s website but they might stumble across the virtual booth and go inside to check it out.
  • Information may be available for 30, 90 or even 365 days afterwards so event goers can log back on and check out things they might have missed.


Traditional Face-to-Face Trade Show

  • Traditional trade shows may last for several days or even months. Expenses include booth space, fitting out and running the booth, marketing materials, give-away items, travel, hotel and meals, and staff time. It can get expensive.
  • Entrance to trade shows is often free for attendees, but they still incur travel, hotel, meal, and staff time costs.
  • The environmental impact of trade shows is not calculated into costs, but there is one. Air travel has a huge carbon footprint. Running the convention hall, building and operating booths, food and drink—it all adds up.

Virtual Trade Show

  • A major benefit of virtual trade shows is cost. There is a fee for the virtual environment but travel, hotel, meal expenses are eliminated. Marketing materials are online. Staff time is reduced as there is no need to travel.
  • The environmental impact of a virtual trade show is minimal, resources to run the virtual event and for vendors and attendees to run their computers.


Traditional Face-to-Face Trade ShowTraditional trade shows seem to have an edge over virtual trade shows due to the face-to-face connection and ability to see and touch actual products. Some traditional trade shows offer a virtual component like streaming presentations online. It is heartening to see “green” trade show products and event companies beginning to address the environmental issues associated with traditional trade shows.

As technology advances, virtual trade shows may be able to provide the same “experience” as a traditional show. In the meantime, virtual trade shows provide a cost effective alternative and potential to reach people that cannot or will not attend a traditional trade show.

Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

One thought on “Trade Shows — Traditional Face-to-Face vs. Virtual”

  1. I can understand how a virtual trade show would work if a trade show were actually in progress but how would the physical set up be prepared if it was only to be virtual? You hear the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” but just seeing pictures of products would seem unsatisfactory if serious purchasing is to occur. Virtual technology is great for some applications but not a substitute for personal interaction.

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