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Here’s What We Learned from Informa’s First Virtual Trade Show Season

The events of 2020 have pushed in-person events of all kinds into the virtual realm. And as the fashion industry moves through a new landscape forever changed by the pandemic, it’s doing so mostly online.

Brands aren’t just selling to shoppers through the web. Their own buying and planning processes—which have until now taken place at trade shows and showrooms—have gone digital, too.

Informa Markets Fashion, which hosts industry events like Magic, Coterie, Project and Micam Americas, closed out its first virtual trade show season, hosted alongside B2B e-commerce platform partner NuOrder, in early November after a two-month run. The web-based format opened up the show—which normally spans just three days—to a higher volume of brands and buyers across the globe, it said, and illuminated new consumer expectations and large-scale industry shifts in wholesale buying.

More than 1,100 international brands showcased a total of 760,000 women’s, men’s and children’s  products on the Informa digital event platform this fall, ranging from contemporary apparel and accessories to value-based selections. The newly virtual event drew 20,000 buyers from around 100 countries—one-fifth of whom had never attended before.

“By embracing a new way to connect and do business through our digital platform, the industry is now able to more quickly and easily come together on a global scale,” Kelly Helfman, Informa Markets Fashion’s commercial president, said in a statement. “With this rebound in globalized commerce, brands and buyers can capitalize on newer business opportunities with even greater scale through a larger variety of vendors and products.”

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Helfman said the event generated 55,000 connections between brands and buyers, and garnered 290,000 brand page views over the course of its eight-week run. “Knowing the industry will continue to shift, and with direct connections being an industry cornerstone, we’ll continue in step with the industry needs,” she said, by creating more opportunities for meaningful engagement both in person and online.

“While the demand for digital tools and more robust technology was accelerated by Covid-19, the industry’s digital adoption also allows us to uncover extremely useful industry trends and behaviors,” added Heath Wells, co-founder and co-CEO of NuOrder. “Through this data, we’re able to see retailers’ and brands’ immediate response to changing market needs,” which helps inform the fashion sector.

Informa and NuOrder’s analytics indicate that fashion may be embarking on a slow return to normalcy over the course of the coming months. Blouses were the No. 1 most-searched apparel item by retailers and buyers on all five event marketplaces, followed by dresses. Jewelry took the top spot in the accessories category across all digital shows, underscoring a continued trend toward “Zoom dressing,” or pulling together waist-up, work-ready looks for virtual meetings.

Activewear continued to have a strong showing, coming in at No. 3 on the list of most-searched apparel, and pointing to a lingering need for casual, comfortable clothing amid a transition back to in-person work and socializing. Many shoppers have also been more focused on their health and wellness during this period of pause, spending more time doing yoga or enjoying the outdoors while retail, restaurants and workplaces remain shuttered.

Buyers are also responding to growing shopper demand for eco-friendly fashion, with Informa’s data showing that sustainability was the No. 2 most-searched attribute (17 percent) by retailers across virtual shows. The issue has been gaining traction for a number of seasons, but the pandemic has likely accelerated interest in longer-lasting, high-quality products as consumers take a moment to reflect on their needs and values, Informa said.

Sustainability was beat out only by “dropship” as the most-searched brand attribute (22 percent), illuminating buyers’ continued concerns about unpredictable consumer demands—and a desire to mitigate risk by taking on less inventory. Retailers are doing this by shifting toward a more demand-focused model, Informa said, which allows them to react more quickly to changing market conditions and shopper appetites.

“Continuing forward and as we synthesize more data with the return of Informa Markets Fashion’s digital events in the upcoming fashion buying cycles, these data models will continually be enriched,” NuOrder’s Wells said, to offer the fashion industry more actionable market insights as it moves forward into a post-pandemic world.