Tiger King, banana bread, home schooling, hand sanitiser … a product of lockdown as much as a glimpse of a possible future, virtual shows gained ground while the exhibition centre doors remained firmly shut. But do they deliver what B2B professionals want? And what might they look like once ‘normal’ service is resumed? Paul Farley investigates …

They may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but trade shows have always been an essential step in the sourcing journey – as well as an invaluable source of inspiration, information and networking opportunities.

Yet, from the moment in March 2020 in which personal contact was fearfully curtailed, what hope remained of bringing people together under one roof to peruse the latest ranges and renew commercial and personal bonds?

With the trade’s exhibition circuit in disarray, a new breed of show sprung into action, promising a wealth of engaging sourcing opportunities unavailable elsewhere, and striving to scratch the trading itch many were acutely feeling. 

But did the virtual events deliver? And, with the imminent return of physical shows, do they remain a credible sourcing option?

In May's Furniture News, we met the people behind three of the newcomers – two physical event ‘pivots’ plus an original concept – and attempted to gauge the furniture industry’s feelings on digital sourcing opportunities as the lockdown restrictions recede. Read our special feature here.