“If you build it, they will come,” goes the famous line from the classic movie Field of Dreams (1989). But unlike a baseball stadium, simply developing a state-of-the-art virtual trade show platform was no guarantee that visitors would arrive. The Council realised this game-changing insight early on and made education one of the three key pillars of its virtual show strategy; the two others being meticulous planning and execution. And the visitors came – in their thousands. What’s more, exhibitors are already reaping the benefits of their decision to join this virtual platform. The ensuing digital revolution is the product of a well-concerted countrywide joint effort led by the GJEPC, which showed remarkable agility in pivoting to a tech-driven strategy when the chips were down.
It all started with a pandemic. As life turned topsy-turvy due to the spread of the deadly Covid disease in March this year, the GJEPC wasted no time in brainstorming on the possibilities of continuing to do business as the world locked up and stayed socially distanced.
When the world slowly started gathering its wits, the GJEPC’s first strategy was to work towards giving this highly leveraged industry a breather in terms of relaxation of government regulations. Having achieved this objective, the Council then moved on to protecting the back end by providing financial aid to thousands of contract workers.
GJEPC Chairman Colin Shah said, “As world markets like China and the US began opening up and adapting to the new normal, the Council worked with the State and Central Governments to begin exports again. Gems and jewellery was one of the first industries in Maharashtra to be given permission to reopen with 10% staff.
“The digital revolution brought on by IIJS Virtual isn’t just a product of circumstance. IIJS Virtual was born out of the pressing need to bring momentum and a positive sentiment to the industry. I’m proud to be leading the GJEPC during what I hope will be one of the most productive and exciting phases for our industry.”
The Genesis of IIJS Virtual
At first, holding a physical IIJS show was the top priority — Plan A, if you will. But as the weeks passed by and it became clear that a physical show would be impossible (the Bombay Exhibition Centre, which hosts the IIJS, had been transformed into a quarantine facility in April), as was Plan B of holding the show in an alternative location, the Council then turned to Plan C – to take IIJS virtual.
Once the decision to hold IIJS Virtual had been finalised, a core team at the GJEPC, under the leadership of GJEPC Chairman Colin Shah, National Exhibitions Convener Shailesh Sangani, and Executive Director Sabyasachi Ray, laid the groundwork by visiting numerous virtual exhibitions of industries such as IT, Handicraft, Healthcare, Machinery, Apparel as well as Jewellery among others.
The team began exploring the world of digital possibilities and zeroed in on the agency best suited for delivering a virtual platform which was appropriate for the gem and jewellery industry, especially recreating the physical IIJS experience in terms of being able to verify visitor credentials, displaying inventory, sharing documents, providing meeting rooms, making schedules, wish lists, etc. The IIJS Virtual architecture was built to incorporate these multiple complex elements all concealed under a simple, user-friendly interface.
Sabyasachi Ray informed, “Our research indicated that while there were several virtual jewellery shows happening around the world at the time, there were hardly any transactions being carried out on those online meeting platforms primarily meant for sharing thoughts and opinions. GJEPC worked on building a ‘transactional platform’ and began with a Buyer-Seller Meet (BSM) for one of the most challenging of products – diamonds.
“This BSM platform was indigenously built and included cutting-edge video technology available only to a few others in the world. The first BSM for diamonds got a tremendous response, and even registered a single transaction worth $300,000. This gave GJEPC the confidence to move forward, and we set forth to build an open-ended format where thousands could transact business simultaneously.”
The Architecture of IIJS Virtual
An intelligent system was developed with the ability to ramp up bandwidth and server capacity based on user traffic for ensuring a lag-free video experience, as all buying and selling would take place through high definition video calling and a smooth user experience was a top priority. The GJEPC hired the best IT professionals to scrutinise the system and analyse the technology used to develop the platform.
Sangani noted, “The biggest challenges in developing IIJS Virtual were finding the right partner, building the architecture based on our unique requirements, and ensuring ease of navigation for the visitor. Planning, execution and education are the three key cornerstones of the show’s success.”
As the platform development progressed, the Council deployed its pan-India human resources towards tasks like educating 335 exhibitors on how to use the platform, uploading pictures, and even hand-held them through technical checks of video equipment and computer systems, internet bandwidth speed tests, monitoring exhibitor profile completion, and so on. Live demos, mock buying sessions, and trial runs were conducted to iron out any minor hiccups. Similar sessions were conducted to educate visitors on how to use the platform.
“We mapped the expectations of visitors and exhibitors. And the singular objective guiding the design of the Virtual show was to deliver a platform greater than the physical show experience,” Ray said.
Having built the platform, the next challenge was how to ensure that a jewellery retailer in the remotest region of India could use it. Ray added, “We realised that we would have to train buyers how to conduct business on IIJS Virtual and serviced 8,000 visitors by assigning 60 people, each handling around 150 people on WhatsApp. In just 40 days, we conducted 40 road shows, tying up with different associations for training sessions. We created modules and training videos and gradually the ramping up happened across India.”
For visitor registration, the GJEPC turned to its ready, authenticated database of 40,000 IIJS visitors. To build the visitors’ confidence in the IIJS Virtual platform, the GJEPC teams kept in touch with them through constant follow-ups via WhatsApp calls, emailers, social media and conducted tutorial meetings on Zoom. Local association heads were roped in to propagate the show to their members and similar online promotions were done for international visitors.
Around a week prior to the show, the IIJS Virtual platform was thrown open to visitors on 5th October. The Preview gave exhibitors an opportunity to study the visitors’ requirements and be well-prepared with suitable inventory and to schedule meetings for the upcoming show.
“Meeting face-to-face at physical shows and expositions is very important and must happen at least once or twice a year, but virtual shows are going to be the future, purely because of the ease in doing business from the comfort of our own offices and homes,” Sangani added.
Maintaining constant communication with exhibitors and visitors and educating them about the IIJS Virtual platform is a crucial aspect of the show’s apparent and instant success.
The herculean efforts put in by the GJEPC has led to the digital transformation of the Indian gem and jewellery industry. And the ready acceptance by exhibitors and visitors alike in embracing the new digital future shows the industry’s willingness to adapt to new ways of doing business and collectively face the challenges head on and emerge successful.