Practical Ecommerce

7 Tips for Selling Products at Events, Shows

When online sellers step out of the office or warehouse to set up shop at a sporting event, a fair, or a similar show, those businesses have a good opportunity to earn new customers and generate sales.

“On-site activation” describes this act of getting out of a company’s normal sales channel, if you will, and selling directly to customers at an event or conference.

Business-to-business suppliers do this sort of thing all of the time at trade shows and conventions, but on-site activations are also an opportunity for retailers selling to the public.

If it is helpful think of on-site activations and sales as part of omnichannel commerce. The term “omnichannel” is often applied to retailers selling in a traditional, physical store and via electronic channels like a website, a marketplace, or, perhaps, a mobile device. But the concept of selling in several channels could be applied to an online store setting up a temporary shop at the county fair, too.

It is also worth mentioning that on-site activations can be very profitable. As an example, one brick-and-click retailer in the northwestern United States will participate in more than a dozen on-site activations in 2017.

This brick-and-click retailer set up a large tent in a gas station parking lot across the street from one of the largest rodeos in the northwestern U.S.. This on-site activation should attract several hundred shoppers.

This brick-and-click retailer set up a large tent in a gas station parking lot across the street from one of the largest rodeos in the northwestern U.S.. This on-site activation should attract several hundred shoppers.

Some of these events — like a 10-day sale at a regional fair or seven days in a tent across the street from a nationally recognized rodeo — may generate $100,000 in sales or more.

Have a Purpose

Whether your on-site activation is at a local high school wrestling meet, the nearest Spartan Race, or the San Diego Comic-Con, you need a reason to invest.

For retailers, the aim will probably be one or more of these four:

  • Sell products,
  • Earn profit,
  • Collect email addresses,
  • Associate your brand with a cause or organization.

Your purpose will inform your planning and activation. For example, if your purpose was to sell products, you would be sure to bring enough inventory. But if your goal was to collect email addresses or associate your brand with the host organization, you might set up an interactive game and giveaway lots of SWAG (stuff we all get).

Partner with Your Suppliers

Your suppliers understand on-site activations and may be willing to help.

While this might not work for new retail businesses, established, mid-market sellers may be able to receive event support from suppliers in the form of cooperative advertising dollars to offset the cost of attending the event or even personnel to help work in the booth and sell products.

You won’t know if you don’t ask.

Make Sure You Can Sell

Ensure that you are able to sell both practically and legally.

Let’s take the latter first. You will need to meet state and municipal requirements for retail sales and for sales tax collection. What those requirements are will vary by jurisdiction. The event organizer should be able to point you toward the proper paperwork.

You also need to be able to process orders at the event. This probably means having electricity, Internet access, and a payment card reader.

Include Your Full Catalog

It may be difficult to bring all of your products to an on-site activation. You probably won’t have the room, but you can make it easy for folks to access your full catalog.

In your booth, set up a computer kiosk or have an iPad or two on hand.

When a shopper asks about a product you don’t have on-site, show him the item on your website and help him place the order right then and there. Don’t leave it up to the shopper to visit your website later or find it on his mobile device.

Invest in Presentation

The rules of aesthetics and merchandising apply to on-site activation.

You want to present your products and your brand in a way that conveys your value.

As you begin to do on-site activations, experiment with different sorts of presentations. Does a particular item sell better standing up or laying down? Do you need a sign? Do you need lots of signs? Do you want to have a video playing?

Workers take a break after merchandising a tent at an on-site store. They know from experience that jeans stacked on a table will sell better than hanging on a rack.

Workers take a break after merchandising a tent at an on-site store. They know from experience that jeans stacked on a table will sell better than hanging on a rack.

Offer a Gift

It can be a good idea to offer anyone who visits your event store (booth or tent) a small gift.

For example, you can have event-specific stickers made that include your store’s URL and an appealing graphic. Or you might offer a free coffee or other beverages. If you sell high-margin items, consider offering a gift with purchase.

You could even give everyone a coupon valid both for a purchase at your on-site activation and later on your website.

Hold a Contest

It can also be a good idea to hold a drawing or contest. And don’t be afraid to make subscribing to your email list a requirement of participating in the drawing.

You may want to develop an automated email series, similar to a welcome series, that is specific to the event and the contest.

Start with an email acknowledging the entry. Follow up with an email announcing the winner and offering a coupon code to everyone who entered.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Jennifer Dunn at TaxJar September 15, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the great article on selling at events. We were getting a lot of questions about the sales tax aspect of selling at trade shows, festivals, craft fairs, etc. so I put together a blog post for sellers and organizers on how to handle sales tax: https://blog.taxjar.com/festival-sales-tax/ I hope that helps someone!