JCK Virtual 2020 –
Taking Trade Shows into Cyberspace
Among the many industry events that have been cancelled over the last six months are jewelry trade shows. Starting in July, however, a few have taken place online, offering sellers and buyers the opportunity to communicate virtually. In the U.S., the largest such offering was conducted by JCK Events, which held its first ever virtual show from August 10 to 14. A number of exhibitors shared their experience with this new platform.
By Cynthia Unninayar
With the cancellation of its traditional June show in Las Vegas, JCK Events scrambled to create a virtual trade fair that could provide the jewelry and watch industries the occasion to connect and reconnect online. In addition to the virtual showroom, the platform offered a range of talks by industry experts on a variety of topics.
According to show officials, the five-day event brought together some 3,400 attendees, which included 2,400 buyers and 700 exhibitors—many from around the world—who were offered a free booth if they signed up for the 2021 show.
The home page of the event featured an image that was reminiscent of the entrance to the physical JCK venue, but once inside, all similarities ended. The main show page offered the visitor the option of searching the show, using the Exhibitor and Product Directories, by category, product, and company name. Each booth or showroom offered a description of the company, the principals or marketing team, a few photos of product and the opportunity to send a message to the team. According to JCK, the Directories received more than 43,000 page views, 142,000 search queries, nearly 60,000 product views and some 35,000 virtual showroom views by the last day of the show.
The platform generally worked well, although there were a few glitches here and there, as might be expected given the newness and nature of the event. During the kick-off day, the operations were sporadically slow, but the following days, connectivity/speed was OK. Since booths were provided and maintained by the exhibitor, some were excellent, with good images/videos and descriptions as well as timely replies to messages, while others clearly needed a helping hand in marketing for future events.
“At a time when how our industry connects is not currently an option, JCK Events had a responsibility to quickly pivot to bring our industry together and facilitate vital business connections in a new way. [T]he challenge was to create an online platform that replicates the experience of in-person meetings and browsing a diverse mix of products and exhibitors on a show floor as best as possible,” explains Sarin Bachmann, Group Vice President, Reed Jewelry Group. “While our audience enjoyed feeling connected via the education, browsing product and meeting virtually, it was clear the digital experience cannot replace or fully replicate the experience of our in-person trade shows and events, where attendees can touch and feel the products as well as socialize and connect in person.”
As a journalist used to browsing the show, seeking out new and unusual products, the virtual event made browsing almost impossible. While there was a way to simply scroll through hundreds of photos of products, it was not practical. I did however randomly seek out a few new companies and responded to messages from others who contacted me as a member of the media. That was a definite plus.
Reactions to the show in general were mixed. The three most frequent comments I heard were: (1) it was a very slow show; (2) most people with whom the exhibitors communicated were other vendors trying to sell them something; and (3) the virtual show just cannot compete with a face-to-face event.
On the other hand, nearly all my interlocutors thought it was a good first step and, despite the drawbacks, it was a promising option in light of the global health crisis. They also felt that this type of event might be a good adjunct to traditional in-person fairs, especially in terms of networking. Some also reported that they made a few good contacts for future follow-up. One definite advantage of the show was that visitors could log on from home or the office at any time during the show day, without being tied to a schedule.
For overseas exhibitors, however, the show times were somewhat problematic depending on where they are based in the world, especially in Asia. Some other shows are now looking at a 24-hour cycle.
For Fumio Morishita of Japan-based brand Pearl Kobo Morishita, a company specializing in pearls and flower motifs, “It was hard for the first time, but I think things can improve in the future. I am grateful to the organizers for giving us the opportunity to meet with buyers from around the world in today’s difficult situation. I am hoping to talk with buyers who contacted me during the show.”
Another overseas exhibitor, Myungji Ye of Korea-based Yemyungji, featuring a line of gemstone and gold-knitted styles, commented that the show was good for this difficult time. “I really liked the show. It was an opportunity. Hopefully, though, it can be held in person next year.”
At the show, Greenland Ruby showcased its RubyCloud, the company’s online platform for selling B-to-B that features a new image and video technology to display gems close up, with color and clarity as true as can possibly be. “The show was a good effort and we've had a few interesting meetings. Because it's online, there are a few challenges like connections, screen sharing, delays etc. Also, it's been a little tricky to navigate all the click-throughs,” commented Marketing Director Hayley Henning.
Darshan Joshi, of Mumbai-based Diabon LLP, INDIA, commented, “At the recent JCK Virtual 2020, we saw an increase in inquiries for lab-grown diamonds and were able to connect with a lot of new prospective clients and we are very optimistic of converting these inquiries into long-term clients.”
In North America, where time zones weren’t a problem, Ricardo Vianna, CEO of Vianna Brasil, stated, “This was the first attempt for the show so that counts a lot. This first online event was in the crawling stage and it will take some time to walk and then run. No one expected to do much business, but it was good to take steps to keep the contacts going.”
Rahil Shah, Operations Manager of New York-based lab-grown diamond company Paradiam, noted, “The show is a great effort to stay connected with the market. More than immediate sales, we expected to make some good connections with some good people and we did.”
A number of companies made a real effort to promote their collections and their booth, as exemplified by OMI Privé, and it paid off. Natalie Rodrigues, Director of Marketing, Omi Privé, commented, “JCK Virtual was a fabulous way for us to showcase our brand and new collections to the largest digital jewelry audience in the world. We were able to tailor our virtual showroom, show videos and tag products to be connected with the retailers that are specifically looking for fine colored gemstone jewelry. The ability to virtually meet with the retailers through the JCK Virtual platform was a refreshing new way to connect and debut our new pieces. We are also excited to be working with a new retailer who is opening a store this fall, who found us through JCK Virtual!”
Izidor Kamhi, CEO and lead designer for the New York-based brand, iZi, commented, "Nothing substitutes the Vegas show, but Virtual was a necessary alternative. We didn't expect a lot since everyone was new to this format. It will be very interesting to see how JCK plans to blend virtual with Vegas in 2021. At least we have will plenty of time to update our online presence for 2021 as this year was a hustle."
“We made some new retail contacts and are talking with them, but obviously nothing compares to the actual trade show,” said Puja Bordia, CEO and Artistic Director of Tresor. “It is, however, a good start and great initiative that JCK has taken. We were approached by sellers more than the buyers on the platform, but that’s something no one can control. They also had wonderful seminars and keynote speakers to share knowledge and insights!”
Maulik Navadiya, sales manager of Toronto-based Neo Lab Growns, summed up many opinions, “Overall, the show was okay, but we felt that traffic was really low even after creating an above-average profile, running a special promotion for JCK, and contacting numerous visitors using the matchmaking tool. Having said that, we connected with a decent number of potential clients, which hopefully will develop into a good business relationship and ultimately make some sales. Since it was just the first year, and they did all this in a short period of time, we are looking forward to the coming years where the platform will be improved and hopefully they can do more marketing to get more traffic online for people who cannot visit the show.”
Included here is a small sampling of some of products showcased by exhibitors from around the world when JCK went virtual.