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Gift Shop Plus Winter 2021
The Digital Alternative By Keith Loria

How to navigate the newest sourcing and buying tools

It’s been an unprecedented year for the gift shop industry, as the COVID-19 pandemic has closed stores, forced trade show cancellations and caused uncertainty for retailers. But during the holiday season business picked up again and stores looked to stock up on the latest and greatest products. For many, that meant turning to digital platforms.

Online Markets

Digital buying platforms, like Faire, have provided retailers and brands the opportunity to connect directly with their customers from all over the world.

“Faire is a curated online wholesale marketplace connecting over 110,000 independent brands and retailers across the United States and Canada,” a Faire spokesperson said. “Meeting customers where they are—online—is not only an important trend in a COVID-19 world, but it’s important to continuously evolve with new needs in an ever-evolving industry.”

International Market Centers (IMC) has studied sourcing trends for decades and noticed a real change with the emergence of the online channel. That’s why the company now employs a three-pronged omnichannel approach to its strategy.

Eric Dean, president of IMC_di, explained in-person trade shows and markets are one piece, sales reps are another and the online marketplace or more traditional B2B website represents the third. The pandemic created a larger ratio for the online piece and that pushed many retailers to throw more weight into their online buying.

IMC offers ShopZio, and online marketplace, and will launch JuniperMKT in February. According to Dean, JuniperMKT “will connect buyers and sellers utilizing all three channels—at market, online and on the road.”

The Virtual Trade Show

The 2020 rise in virtual shows allowed retailers to shop for products and still maintain interaction with manufacturers about new and trending items.

For instance, IndieMe Marketplace, an online marketplace for handmade American and Canadian artist-madecraft, held a Virtual Expo in both June and September.

“The IndieMe Marketplace Virtual Expo is a separate platform which utilizes the powerful search engine capabilities of the IndieMe Marketplace along with our PCI-compliant, feature-rich checkout system,” said Jacqueline Adamany, president of IndieMe Marketplace.

On both platforms, retail buyers can place items into their carts and/or wishlists and then checkout with each individual artist when they are ready. The online marketplace is a fee-based platform for artists and no commissions or listing fees are charged. There was no charge for retailers to join the IndieMe Marketplace or the Virtual Expo platform.

Even once things return to normal, Adamany noted IndieMe will continue to offer the Virtual Expo long after the trade shows are back in full operation.

In June, Onecoast offered a six-day eShow, a multi-line virtual trade show featuring dozens of vendors introducing thousands of new products, many of which were shown in multi-media videos called “First Look.”

Shoppe Object held its very first Shoppe On virtual trade show in August, and will continue with a new virtual experience in February.

Faire developed its first online trade show event, Faire Summer Market, at a time when retailers were left scrambling for alternatives for holiday buying ahead of a critical period for the industry.

In October, Emerald Expositions set up a five-day NY NOW Digital Market, a discovery, connection, lead generation and engagement platform, not an ecommerce platform as the company felt there were already plentiful ecommerce solutions and did not want to introduce more complexity for buyers and brands.

“Our focus was to create a platform that was simple, straight-forward and easy-to-use. We wanted a way for our community of brands, makers and buyers to connect at a time when it’s not possible to do so in person,” explained Tim Hart, senior vice president, retail group at Emerald Expositions.

“Digital is a way to increase reach for everyone — we can accommodate a far larger community digitally and more affordably,” Hart said. “We also believe that digital will feed the in-person event by helping us engage year-round and develop relationships with a larger number of brands, makers and retailers.”

Retail’s new normal will see a bigger blend of digital and in-person offerings than ever before.

Keith Loria

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for major newspapers and magazines for close to 20 years, on topics as diverse as sports, business, theater and retail. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at Rinkside, BCA Insider and Soap Opera Digest. You can view some of his recent writing at

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