The Battle of on-line versus face to face rages on

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Barry Siskind

Community Manager

One crucial answer that evades us is the effect of on-line shopping versus the experience of face to face. Do we need both? Is one better that the other? Are customers shifting away from the need to experience for the convenience of on-line purchasing?

For the exhibition industry the debate of on-line versus face-to-face is a life and death battle that has been raging for the past decade and we still cannot determine a winner.

A recent study by the California Institute of Technology found that customers found more value in face-to-face and would pay on average 50% more for goods they could experience. This makes sense in a B-to-C situation but what about well-heeled business decision makers. Does this group of B – to – B decision makers get enough information on-line to make the ultimate decision or do they also need the experience to solidify the deal?

The study failed to answer the question of how much time a customer spent on-line before making the purchase.  It failed to answer whether the additional cost of shipping and handling for an on-line transaction overshadowed the face to face interaction. It did suggest for some well known products, face-to-face was loosing some of its necessity to be seen and experienced. Consumer electronics are one example. If your friend purchases a mini-laptop that you like, chances are that you would discuss the purchase with your colleague. You might pose the same questions in your social media group – Has anyone out there had any experience with X -computer? With all this in hand you may now place your order on-line. In this scenario the one thing that seems to reduce the necessity for face to face is familiarity.

Does this conclusion limit the power of face to face to product introductions? We are simply not sure.

I would like to think that the on-line versus face to face debate is the same for the B – to – C decision maker as it is for the B – to – B where both form an integral part of the equation.  With more research by organizations like Caltech, we will be able to definitively apply meaningful assumptions about buying behaviour in the 21st century and its ultimate effect on those of us who organize exhibitions.

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