Are marketplace platforms transforming the trade show and exhibition industry?

In 2017, global B2B eCommerce sales captured worldwide attention by dwarfing its global retail counterpart with a gross merchandising value of US$7.7 trillion vs. US$2.3 trillion. More companies are cashing in on this online business model, and leading the pack are large generalised marketplaces like Alibaba and Amazon Business, which operate different B2B distribution models.

Today, millions of buyers over the world flock to global ecommerce marketplaces. It is said that marketplaces provide the fastest opportunity to test and penetrate new international markets.

No doubt, online B2b marketplaces are the growth engine behind this eCommerce growth and prosperity.

Growth of marketplaces are driven by two types: specialised marketplaces within their niche sectors like Staples Exchange and AmericanCraftBrands.com, or generalized marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart/jet.com. Compared to online retail distribution, B2B eCommerce shows more fragmentation with vertical-specific or regional B2B marketplaces competing strongly against the top generalised players. Considering this is a US$6-8 trillion mega-industry, there is still room for industry vertical marketplaces to gain market share as the industry quickens its pace towards greater digitisation.

This marketplace trend is starting to be seen within the trade show and exhibition industry, with show organisers looking to capture their share of the B2B eCommerce market.

Show organisers are in a unique position as they hold a centralised position that naturally allows them to take on the role of an online marketplace administrator. A trade show is a natural consolidation of buyers and sellers who possess a ready mindset to explore, connect, purchase and transact. As an admin, you can provide a ready online environment to initiate and expand collaboration and connectivity across exhibitors and visitors year round. This offers a significant opportunity for show organisers to further monetise their shows, as well as to boost discovery and engagement within its trading community.


From our research, there have been a handful of show organisers who have deployed trade show marketplaces as a strategic move to capitalise on the growing B2B online distribution. Most launched in the last 3 years and are primarily in retail. Notable shows are:



These trade show marketplaces reveal promising results in revenue and lead generation for their exhibitors, faster brand discovery for consumers, and evolved capability to address their community’s expectations for better and extended connectivity beyond the physical events.

All were well received by exhibitors, show visitors and buyers. The NuORDER Online Trade Show was pilot tested at the Agenda Show on Jan 4 – 5 2018, and official reports highlighted that participating brands were able to generate 15,000 new leads via the platform. At the OFFPRICE show this year, Paul Maya, an exhibitor commented, We were not only able to showcase our merchandise to new buyers, but I was happy to see how OFFPRICE365 is going to help my company attract new business online. The platform is going to be a valuable tool for exhibitors, but also a great asset to our off-price community. Première Vision has set an impressive goal to onboard 1,500 companies, 70,000 products, 250,000 potential buyers, and produce regular communication in news, content and analysis to support its community.


The success experienced by early adopters of the trade show marketplace is simply the tip of the iceberg.

With the abundance of information stored on the platform, associations and for-profit show organizers will have ready access to a wealth of information about their members/buyers and sellers. Adding on robust data analytics will provide further opportunities to conduct commerce, improve online and offline user experience and journey, as well as identify and deploy strategic capabilities (such as machine learning match making and brand/product recommendations) required to increase community stickiness and expansion for the event and marketplace platform.


Another opportunity lies outside of each trade show and exhibition community. As more show organisers adopt an online platform, collaboration across events seems more plausible to open new doors for partnerships, cross selling or affiliate marketing of complementary products and services.


Trade shows and exhibitions are now standing at a critical cross road - to evolve and future proof their business model, or to face obsolescence risk.

Denzil Rankine, AMR’s CEO, spoke about the concept of Exhibition 2.0 and pointed to organisers adopting Exhibition 2.0 will accept year round engagement as not only the norm but also the requirement for attending to the needs of a market. “The main impetus for change, as ever, lies with customers. The new generation of participants are not interested in stepping back in time on an exhibition floor. (Therefore) revenue from exhibit sales will inevitably decline in the mix.”


Online trade show marketplaces will expand broader than the current retail and service industries.

We have seen successful B2B and e-procurement marketplaces in healthcare, agriculture, industrial products, and hospitality, which are non-trade show related. They could be replicated in the trade show and exhibition industry.

It is clear that digital platforms have yet to significantly transform the trade show and exhibitions industry. But the evolution has commenced with a promising start. We foresee more will join the ranks of the early adopters, or risk missing out on a significant opportunity as B2B consumers embrace digital marketplace platforms as a new way of procurement and conducting business.


If you are an association or show organiser keen to explore this opportunity, look out for our next article to understand the options to get started on building an online trade show and exhibition marketplace platform.

About The Author:

June Boo