Traders flock to cyberspace
Jul 31, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak may have put physical fairs on ice, but it is generating e-business opportunities and prompting the launch of virtual shows such as Summer Sourcing Weeks | Go ONLINE.

The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping many suppliers, exporters, importers, buyers and investors confined at home – and no intelligence, artificial or otherwise, will reveal when regular physical travel can resume. At the same time, changes brought by COVID the transformer – which range from higher demand for medical devices to home-schooling products and services – bring a plethora of fresh opportunities.

Economic and social commentators also point out that the “new normal” which will emerge when the pandemic recedes will be very different to the “old normal”. Work from home (at least part of the time) is likely to become a fixture, for example.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) has moved rapidly to help the city, which is heavily dependent on finance, trade and investment, and its business partners adapt to this new reality.

Virtual exhibitions

The HKTDC has migrated the nine physical exhibitions originally scheduled to be held by the end of July onto an online platform. In addition, an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled business matching service is being introduced to help suppliers and buyers close more deals. Organised by the HKTDC, Summer Sourcing Weeks | Go ONLINE opened on 27 July and runs until 7 August. This 9-in-1 virtual trade exhibition has attracted more than 1,300 exhibitors, featuring lighting, electronics, information and communications technology (ICT), medical and healthcare, houseware, fashion, home textiles and furnishings, gifts, printing and packaging products. This brand-new online exhibition platform aims to help global buyers replenish supplies and assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in exploring new business opportunities when travelling and physical contacts are to be avoided.

“Although the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting huge challenges for businesses globally, it also offers the prospect of online business opportunities for enterprises,” said Benjamin Chau, HKTDC Deputy Executive Director.

He noted that the HKTDC had initiated various online promotions, including the Spring Virtual Expo in April and the Summer Virtual Expo in late June and July, to assist SMEs and international buyers overcome the challenges during this difficult period.

“Now, to further boost business connections between global exhibitors and buyers, we are launching Summer Sourcing Weeks | Go ONLINE, an advanced online virtual exhibition,” Mr Chau said at the launch of the 12-day virtual event on 27 July.

He added the online show features an AI-enabled Click2Match business matching platform to help SMEs forge more connections and opportunities.

Mr Chau said Summer Sourcing Weeks | Go ONLINE is one of the HKTDC initiatives helping to expand the e-commerce capabilities of Hong Kong businesses. “The HKTDC is actively equipping SMEs to embrace the digital economy. In addition to strengthening cooperation with a number of technology partners to provide Hong Kong companies with more cost-effective digital solutions, the interface and functions of our Sourcing online marketplace will be further enhanced and relaunched later this year, utilising a variety of new technologies to improve business-matching efficiency.”

AI business matching

The month-long Summer Virtual Expo drew to a successful close on 24 July, helping more than 22,000 suppliers connect with buyers from around the world. From April to July, the number of buyers browsing the Sourcing online marketplace increased nearly 20% to 4.2 million compared with the same period in 2019.

Building on these achievements, Summer Sourcing Weeks | Go ONLINE helps exhibitors from the nine physical fairs build a virtual presence to connect with global buyers. The virtual exhibition offers multiple new functions that make it easy for buyers to source online. These include the Click2Match business-matching platform that operates automatically using big data and AI technology, and other functions covering meeting planning, video meetings, live chat and online seminars run by industry experts, all of which aim to provide a better online sourcing and communication experience for buyers and exhibitors alike. The HKTDC’s 50 global offices have kept in touch with buyers who attended its physical fairs previously along with newly registered buyers. More than 5,000 business-matching meetings have been pre-arranged to increase business opportunities.

Online seminars map out future

The Summer Sourcing Weeks | Go ONLINE portal highlights featured products and details of the nine fairs for participants’ easy reference. The Intelligence Hub section introduces various webinars, including “Tech Trends Symposium 2020 – The Future of Intelligent Connectivity” (28 July), which addressed the impact of the artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT), the smart home, 5G technology applications and other related issues. Elsewhere, representatives from WGSN, the global authority on consumer and design trends, will share their views in “WGSN Presents: Lifestyle & Interiors Trends Presentation S/S 2021” (29 July), while the “Asian Lighting Forum 2020 – Shaping the Future of Lights” (30 July) will analyse the prospects of smart lighting from a human-centric perspective. The “Trendwatcher – The Reshaping of Retail Landscape” seminar (31 July) will feature representatives from internationally renowned market research agency Euromonitor International and local branding consultancy REALLY DESIGN.

Anti-epidemic products in focus

Reflecting the development by Hong Kong companies of a range of anti-epidemic products for better hygiene and health protection since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the online exhibition presents a variety of disease prevention and control products, with the Smart Health Hong Kong zone showcasing a wide range of locally developed healthcare products. They include an antibacterial and antiviral coating, a disinfection robot, nanofibre-technology air filters, air sanitisers, an AI-assisted body temperature screening system, quarantine tracking technology and more.

Catering for the stay-at-home economy – which has driven demand for consumer electronics, home entertainment equipment and education products and services – the virtual fair features a broad selection of smart-home and lifestyle products.

Exhibition subsidies benefit exhibitors

To help enterprises overcome pandemic challenges, the HKTDC provides a special subsidy of HK$5,000 for each Summer Sourcing Weeks | Go ONLINE exhibitor. The original participation fee for the fair was HK$10,000. After deducting this special subsidy, local companies that meet the application criteria for the SME Export Marketing Fund are eligible to apply for an additional 50% subsidy based on the original participation fee. This means their participation in the virtual expo can be free of charge.