Virtual reality as Canton Fair goes online
Jun 17, 2020

On the outskirts of Cixi, Zhejiang province, Fang Zhanhe and his employees recently finished decorating a room at his stationery factory in preparation for a livestreaming session, an increasingly popular tool in the country's digital marketing landscape.

The company is participating in the 127th session of the China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair.

"Despite having adjusted our business to produce more invoices for domestic companies, universities and local tax offices to mitigate the dropping order impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the online Canton Fair this year could help us revive the export business," Fang said, adding that his factory with 200 staff only managed to ship five containers of notebooks, diaries and calendars to overseas markets so far this year, with exports down compared to previous years.

As many regions around the world are taking measures to contain COVID-19, the government rescheduled the international flagship trade event in late March, and decided to hold it instead as an online event-the first time in its 63-year history-from Monday to June 24 in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. It will consist of online cooperation platforms, transnational e-commerce zones and livestreaming marketing services.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has already cast a shadow over global trade, aviation, services and tourism, businesspeople are still unwilling or unable to travel overseas. China's exporters will have better access to the global market by showcasing their products online this time, said Sang Baichuan, an economics professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

"The replacement of the physical exhibition with an online event will not only prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but also help domestic companies gain more firsthand knowledge of foreign market demand via the latest digital and internet technologies," Sang said.

Eager to restore their earnings strength, domestic manufacturers have been gearing up to fulfill overseas orders via the internet. Many of them have already designed new web pages with 3D features to display their latest products and services for overseas buyers during the online fair.

Nie Jing has been undergoing a full schedule of training sessions on how to promote her company's products in front of video cameras since the end of May.

"Livestreaming has been an increasingly popular tool in the digital marketing landscape, as well as a completely new way of selling our products," said Nie, deputy general manager of Zhuhai Primy Kitchen Co Ltd, a maker of stainless steel kitchen and bathroom products based in Guangdong province.

Pushed by the Canton Fair's new format, Nie had to select some sales department staff to be potential anchors. They will help promote the company's products online to global buyers during the fair.

"Potential anchors must be professional, have good understanding of our products and possess proficient foreign language ability," she said. To resolve the issue of time zone differences, the company's head office has issued a revised duty schedule to work the night shift and better serve overseas clients.

Gree Electric Appliances, a Zhuhai-based brand in Guangdong, has also organized a team of anchors who are knowledgeable of product functions, overseas trade procedures and foreign languages, having prepared themselves for online business before the Canton Fair.

"We have developed a team for livestreaming, with the aim of clinching more deals with overseas buyers during the fair," said Wang Shunfang, assistant to the general manager of Gree's overseas sales department.

The company will hold a grand livestreaming event on Thursday to showcase its latest technologies and products to international buyers.

"For us, overseas trading is not only about offline sales, but more importantly online livestreaming, which is expected to help us ink more deals during the fair," Wang said.