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[Case Study] The Seoul Cafe Show demonstrated the potential of a hybrid exhibition



Simultaneous live streaming both on-and off-line at COEX on November 14-17

Six popular YouTuber teams “rummaged” through the exhibition hall

Dual live streaming through NAVER Shopping Live

Diverse online strategies such as “digital fair” and webinar

Yun, Eun-ju, “The online exhibition market is set to reach 400 billion dollars this year”


This year’s Seoul Cafe Show, the largest coffee exhibition in Asia, caught the attention of the world by incorporating online components such as virtual tour and e-commerce. The 19th Seoul Cafe Show held at COEX on November 14-17 was praised highly as having created synergy between the physical exhibition space and e-commerce under the slogan of hosting "a hybrid convergence show." It remains to be seen whether this experimentation at the Seoul Cafe Show could blow a warm wind into the exhibition industry facing a harsher winter than ever due to the pandemic.


First of all, the focused online strategy stands out. This year’s Seoul Cafe Show featured YouTubers popular among young people and coffee lovers, and enhanced the depth and breadth of online marketing through e-commerce and video conferencing platforms. Representative programs include “Virtual Tour” with popular YouTubers, NAVER Shopping Live “Seoul Cafe Show Exhibition”, smart online exhibition “Digital Fair” and business lounge “Mocha Port”.


The “Virtual Tour” featured six teams led by famous YouTubers streaming popular coffee channels such as “Men's Coffee” and “Sagun Caffeine". They ”rummaged“ through the exhibition hall with their own, free concept to promote exhibitors and products. Typical of YouTubers, they broke away from the rigid broadcasting format and were strolling around the hall freely to convey the atmosphere of the site. They helped those who wanted to, but could not visit the Seoul Cafe Show in person to explore the exhibitions in the comfort of their home. The sense of presence and the witty talk of the public relations officers of each booth further enhanced immersive product experience.


Not a few viewers must have found themselves searching for products on their smartphones while watching the streamed video on a computer. If so, it may be fair to say that the exhibition has achieved some success. “Show × NAVER Shopping Live” was in full swing as I myself searched for products with my smartphone while watching and listening to the review of YouTubers who covered the show in real time. Participating companies including Nokchawon, Dongseo and Delico Coffee Machine were promoting their products on NAVER Shopping Live. I was able to get product information in 3D in the comfort of my home as if I were watching a TV shopping channel. An official related to the Seoul Cafe Show said, "The event was designed to present a new alternative and direction to those in the exhibition and café-related industries that are struggling to stay afloat, by creating a shared prosperity model that combines the entire chain of information delivery, purchase and consumption, going beyond a simple integration with e-commerce."


The smart online exhibition hall “Digital Fair,” where online visitors can check out the participating companies at a glance, and the “Smart contact” program for overseas visitors attracted attention as well. In particular, The Smart Contact provided smart business opportunities to domestic and overseas cafe industry officials and consumers by hosting webinars through video platforms and operating a special exhibition hall to showcase the products of overseas exhibitors and to visitors who could not attend the event in person. 



Coffee shops hit hard by the pandemic

Filled with “non-contact” and “home cafe” products


This exhibition was filled with products equipped with “non-contact features” in response to the pandemic. The e-commerce platform “Factory Cracking” introduced a platform that encompasses locally produced cafe-related items such as tea cups, bowls, teaspoons, and small items such as trays and water bottles. They were sold at the same price as in online shopping malls to encourage visitors to check out the products at the cafe and to purchase them. A non-contact mobile ordering system was used to enable the purchase process. Customers can view detailed product information by reading the QR code of the product of interest and order the product directly from their mobile phone. The purchase order form is sent directly to the store owner via Cloud Force. When the product is ready, an alarm sounds and the customer can go and pick up the item.


“Andy Showcase” introduced a smart door showcase that minimizes the risk of droplets and contact. Buttons are attached to the showcase where bread or confectionery items are displayed for automatic opening and closing. When a customer selects a product and presses the button, the showcase opens. If the customer leaves without pressing the button to close the showcase, the door will close automatically if the sensor detects no movement for a certain period of time. It is a device that minimizes the risk of droplets and dust in the air settling onto the displayed products.

This year's Seoul Cafe Show showcased products in line with the new trend of “non-contact, quarantine, and safety”. The organizers also delivered a message of appreciation and encouragement with a slogan, “We always ‘do’ coffee.” to the coffee industry struggling with the pandemic.


Yun, Eun-ju, a professor at Hallym International Graduate School (Department of Convention and Event Management), announced at a meeting of the Global MICE Research Association on the 17th of last month a paper titled “Changes in the Global Exhibition and Convention Industry Trends and Prospects for 2021” and said, "The Seoul Cafe Show introduced 'exhibition-based live commerce' as a breakthrough in the exhibition industry hit hard by the pandemic.” She predicted, "A digital exhibition is in its early stage, but its need as 'supplementary good' will rise." According to Professor Yun, the global online exhibition market is expected to grow rapidly, reaching 400 billion dollars this year, a three-fold increase from 60 billion dollars in 2019.   



Interview with director Oh, Yoon-jeong at Exporum that organized the Hybrid Seoul Cafe Show


Plans A·B·C amid uncertainty about event hosting

Pandemic accelerated digital convergence

Positive about effectiveness and business impact

Plan to upgrade the show marking the 20th anniversary


- Hello. Congratulations, though late, for the “19th Seoul Cafe Show” that ended successfully in November. Although two months have passed, many MICE people are still paying attention to the hybrid show that seamlessly connected the online and offline world. There must have been a lot of difficulty in preparing for the show.


“No one would have expected the pandemic to continue this long. When we were planning for the show, there was uncertainty about the hosting of an on-site event until the government announcement came on October 11 last year to ease social distancing measures. So we prepared plans A, B and C. We decided to go with a hybrid format and focused on enhancing user experience using online technology. In the end, thanks to the easing of the social distancing measures, we were able to host a hybrid event.”


- We could see the level of effort you put in to create more enriched experience for visitors. You invited six YouTuber teams to the show and collaborated with the nation's largest internet portal NAVER. Your attempt to converge the digital world and the field of exhibitions has implications for the exhibition industry. How would you evaluate the show as an organizer?

"Due to the pandemic this year, it was difficult to attract more than 100,000 visitors as we used to. So, we decided to position the exhibition hall of the Seoul Cafe Show as a space where B2B buyers can experience various products and services and have consultations with the sellers, and create a business network. For those who cannot visit the Seoul Cafe Show in person such as foreign buyers, B2C consumers, and other potential customers, we invited them to virtually participate in various programs that converge the digital and physical world. Participating companies were given unique opportunities to advertise their brand and to generate new revenue online. As introduced in “Trend Korea”, it seems that it is speed, not direction, that was changed by the pandemic. Due to Covid 19, we were able to experience a Seoul Cafe Show integrated with digital technology earlier than expected."


-I think the hot topic of the exhibition industry for new year will be “online exhibition” and “hybrid exhibition” in response to the coronavirus. Players in the exhibition industry accept the changes as inevitable, but it seems they are somehow hesitant to organize a hybrid event. This is largely because they doubt the effectiveness of a hybrid event in creating business results. Should they jump on the bandwagon right away, hosting a hybrid event or should they plan for an on-site event in preparation for the days when the pandemic subsides?


“As I mentioned earlier, digital convergence advanced by the pandemic seems to be a necessity, not an option. Of course, I believe that digital technology cannot entirely replace the intrinsic value of the physical components of the exhibition, the value of face-to-face business opportunities and interactions. However, as a supplementary element, digital convergence expands exhibition experience more efficiently beyond the time and space limitations and I am positive about its effectiveness and business impact. I am confident that the ability to effectively incorporate digital technology with a focus on the intrinsic value of the exhibition will be the key differentiator in the domestic exhibition industry in the future.”


- You presented completely new content at the 2020 Seoul Cafe Show. Are you planning to introduce another new content (or business) in 2021?

“The 2021 Seoul Cafe Show carries a special meaning as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show. The focus of the show has been on growing scale and gaining global competitiveness so far. As the Seoul Cafe Show marks the 20th anniversary, we will introduce a new platform that helps upgrade user experience one step further in preparation for a post-pandemic world. This year's hybrid program was a pilot and we are preparing to make it a regular program for upgraded and advanced user experience based on the outcome of a post-event survey on exhibitors and visitors.”


- Do you have any last comments you would like to add?

“A crisis comes with new opportunities. I think an exhibition that effectively responds to the pandemic will have new opportunities. I hope Korea’s exhibition industry will evolve further through various attempts and ideas of digital convergence.”


This interview was conducted via email on the 21st of last month due to the pandemic.