When a wave of retail industry trade shows and conferences began to be postponed and canceled earlier this year, the folks at Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing (ECRM) were moving fast to create a new virtual meeting platform.
ECRM is all about events, holding hundreds of meetings each year where buyers and sellers connect for one-on-one appointments, so the stakes were high and the challenges were many to create a virtual platform quickly. After all, COVID-19 may have disrupted the trade show circuit, but it didn’t negate the need for buyers and sellers to connect, discover new items and do deals.
"Adversity drives innovation," said Greg Farrar, CEO of ECRM. "The challenges of the pandemic showed everybody the power of virtual meetings and the opportunity to leverage digital in a more effective way. We believe our platform delivers an experience that is as close to in-person as possible, providing the high-tech yet personalized service that our clients have come to expect."
ECRM launched its initial virtual offering in early March called Efficient Supplier Introductions, or ESIs, comprised of a series of virtual supplier presentations in a "one-to-many" format which supported the buyers' need to continue product discovery. The ESI virtual offering was a proof-of-concept to develop the more robust one-to-one offering now being expanded.
"With more than 1,000 buyers participating in our ESIs over the last few weeks, it is clear that the offering has filled a need in the market as retailers and suppliers are looking for introductions and sourcing solutions, perhaps now more than ever," said Kurt Repola, SVP of ECRM. "We were also able to quickly gather a tremendous amount of feedback, and we learned that buyers still placed immense value on the one-on-one meetings with suppliers that are a staple of our category programs and, in these times, they were missing that next-stage, critical component of their review process. Over the last few weeks, we have been diligently working to expand our platform and develop a virtual capability that matches our in-person experience."
The platform has been specifically designed to deliver the same experience as an in-person session, according to ECRM. For example, as with in-person sessions, each virtual session will feature a wealth of resources to help buyers and suppliers make the most of their experience, including RangeMe onboarding, best practices information, relevant market research and educational programs. Sellers also have several levels of participation, each consisting of one-on-one virtual engagement with buyers.
"These Virtual Sessions and RangeMe enable ECRM to continue its role as an extension of buyers' and suppliers' businesses," according to Farrar. "Moving forward, they will become an integral part of our offerings. By extending our technology platform to include virtual meetings we're now able to serve our customers whenever, wherever and however will best fulfill their needs."
The new virtual approach is an extension of the ECRM innovation philosophy that caused it to disrupt the world of retail trade events more than 30 years ago when it pioneered the concept of one-on-one meetings between retail buyers and sellers. It built proprietary software to manage the complexity of scheduling thousands of 20 to 30 minutes meeting at its events over the course of several days and then steadily added more and more events and expanded globally. The one-on-one approach was eventually emulated by organizers of other retail trade events and is now quite common.
ECRM isn’t abandoning live events going forward, but rather plans to take a blended approach with a digital and physical offering – at some point when physical is possible again.