Hong Kong, April 21: A survey commissioned by Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) Research found that the vast majority of international buyers (93 per cent) have used online sourcing platforms since the pandemic began, with more than 85 per cent attending virtual fairs to meet their sourcing needs.
Many buyers surveyed said they would prefer to source via physical fairs (63 per cent) or hybrid fairs (59 per cent) once travel restrictions are lifted.
“The survey reflects that more buyers have been choosing to purchase online due to the pandemic,” HKTDC Director of Research Irina Fan said.
“However, this makes it difficult to perform tasks such as product examination and evaluation as well as supplier authentication.
“We believe that physical fairs and hybrid fairs are the future, with the two complementing each other.”
The HKTDC had commissioned the independent research institution Ipsos to conduct the study, titled “B2B Online Sourcing: A Buyer Behaviour Study Towards Recovery”, between May and October 2021, interviewing about 600 international buyers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Australia, Europe, Mainland China and the United States to gauge their views on international sourcing patterns following the onset of the pandemic.
According to the survey, 93 per cent of respondents said they had used online sourcing platforms during the past 12 months where they conducted more than 60 per cent of their sourcing on average; 43 per cent said they had engaged more suppliers than they did before the pandemic using online sourcing platforms; 46 per cent said they had sourced a wider variety of products; 42 per cent said they had sourced more frequently, and 44 per cent said the average value per order had increased.
Fan said that there are three top reasons for buyers to use online sourcing platforms, namely, to search for new suppliers and make enquiries (70 per cent), to compare products and prices (66 per cent), and to identify the latest product trends (57 per cent).
“In the wake of the pandemic, many industries are committed to organising virtual fairs to strengthen the connection between international buyers and suppliers.
“These events have been well received by the industry, with the survey showing that more than 85 per cent of buyers surveyed had participated in virtual fairs in 2021.”
In addition, buyers rated the overall effectiveness of online sourcing through web platforms, websites, mobile apps and virtual meetings at an average of 7.4 out of 10, seeing them as fairly effective overall.
When asked about the main pain points associated with using online sourcing platforms, 61 per cent of respondents said it was the inability to examine products physically, while other major barriers were the risk of fraud (56 per cent), insufficient product details and images (54 per cent), unresponsive suppliers (49 per cent) and uncertified products (49 per cent).
Regarding future sourcing preferences, 63 per cent of buyers responding in the survey said they would prefer to source via physical fairs while 59 per cent of buyers would prefer hybrid fairs once travel restrictions are lifted.
Among the buyers surveyed, those from Mainland China and ASEAN countries expressed the most enthusiasm for hybrid fairs, followed by buyers from Europe, the United States and Australia.
Fan pointed out that while international buyers have accepted virtual fairs out of necessity, and reduced travel costs and other expenses associated with attending physical fairs, the broad consensus remains that virtual fairs will not supersede physical fairs.
Physical and virtual fairs both have their own merits, and hybrid fairs that combine the two formats will continue to be another choice for international buyers.
The survey also showed that buyers who prefer hybrid fairs were more likely to register a higher average spend per order (in the range of US$50,000-$100,000 plus) compared with counterparts who prefer physical or virtual fairs.
This suggests that hybrid fairs could be well-positioned to facilitate more lucrative business opportunities.
Fan added that the key digital features buyers would like to see at hybrid fairs include the ability to easily search and acquire exhibitor information, scheduling meetings with exhibitors before, during and after the physical trade show, and having access to use communication tools such as instant messaging, file sharing and business card sharing.
Other services such as seminar live streaming and recordings, virtual meetings, and artificial intelligence-enabled exhibitors as well as product recommendations were also sought-after features of great benefit to buyers and exhibitors alike.
The other survey findings include:
Buyers who used online sourcing platforms in the past 12 months
Yes 93 per cent
No 7 per cent
Buyers who joined virtual fairs in the past 12 months
Yes 85.5 per cent
No 14.5 per cent
Buyers’ sourcing preferences in a post-COVID-19 era
Physical fairs 63 per cent
Hybrid fairs 59 per cent
Virtual fairs 37 per cent
Online sourcing platforms 21 per cent
Top three reasons to use online sourcing platforms
Search for new suppliers and make enquiries 70 per cent
Compare products and prices 66 per cent
Identify the latest product trends 57 per cent
Pain points associated with using online sourcing platforms
Unable to examine the products physically 61 per cent
Risk of fraud 56 per cent
Insufficient product details and photos 54 per cent
Unresponsive suppliers 49 per cent
Uncertified products 49 per cent
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