What the Last-Minute Shoptalk Virtual Postponement Reinforces about Virtual Events

Today we — like many in the brand & consumer tech orbit — woke up excited to attend what we thought would be a ground-breaking revolutionary virtual event experience put on by the pros at Shoptalk - the premiere event for retail, brand & consumer tech. 


In their own words: Our 8,000+ attendees tell us each year that Shoptalk is the retail industry’s best event, consistently describing their experience as amazing, educational, energizing, exciting, insightful, inspiring, productive and fun.”


Having already postponed the live event from March to September at the outbreak of Covid-19 in the US, we can assume their team has been dealing with all the same practicalities, emotions and new realities that we have. All the while, busily working to recreate retail’s most impactful event of the year online. No big deal, right?


So this morning, ready to plan our day around the virtual Shoptalk schedule, we checked our inboxes and saw that they had decided to postpone the event. We felt a few things at once: 


Surprise. This is a dedicated team who had announced just 2 weeks ago that the event was going virtual - giving so many planners, retailers, and the entire event-o-sphere hope. With an audience of 8,000+ who paid to attend live in Vegas, and more than 10,000 who registered for the free virtual experience, this already highly attended event had even greater reach (one of the benefits of virtual!).


Empathy. Planners are problem solvers. We prop up the globe. We’re in all those top-10 lists of “Most Stressful Jobs” and we handle it day in and day out. We hear “You’re the planner, figure it out!” and we DO. Today’s decision to postpone the event must have been very painful for this team. We can imagine the internal conversations, stress and anxiety that has been mounting for them this week. 


Vindication. We have been hearing this over and over again the last few weeks “Planning a virtual event must be SO much easier, right?” No, it’s not. Maybe someday it will be when the infrastructure (not just platforms, but the internet itself!), audience expectations and global context is also different. When planning within this new landscape many elements translate, some simplify, some are more complicated but what doesn’t change is that meaningful events take time and careful planning. 


Appreciation. Thank you Shoptalk team for being so honest with us. You could have shut your eyes, hit “go” and hoped for the best, leading to potential widespread disappointment. You could have spun it, or made excuses — but you didn’t. You just admitted you weren’t ready and were still figuring it out. 


This is an excerpt from their update email, sent today at 8:32AM when the conference was set to begin at 11:00AM today:

“As with everything our audience has come to expect of Shoptalk, we want our Virtual Conference to be useful and insightful, especially with more than 10,000 individuals registered to attend. We’ve been quickly learning how to produce engaging and informative content delivered over video, and we believe we’re not yet at the point of having a product that meets the needs of the industry at this critically important time.

As a result, we’ve decided to postpone the Shoptalk Virtual Conference, which was scheduled to take place later today, giving us the time to continue to explore formats we think work best for a video-first medium. We’ll be back in touch next week with the rescheduled date and additional details.

At a time when in-person events have been restricted and canceled, you would think that a virtual event would take place as scheduled. However, the reality is that if you really want to get it right, translating an in-person event to a virtual one presents many unique challenges. We’re working to deliver the best possible first version of this important new initiative, and we appreciate your patience and understanding.”


All event pros are navigating the terrain of creating fully & naively-virtual events. Yes, many of us have a plethora of experience with streaming or partially-virtual events, one-direction webinars and the like. But those are not EVENTS in the sense that our audiences are clamouring for right now. Thoughtful experiences IRL or IVL take time (and often a similar budget!). We are bringing our expertise, customized strategic approach and focus on audience engagement to the table for our clients today. We are glad not to be learning that lesson the hard way today. We are sticking to our best practices and processes to create impactful fully virtual events.