Physical conferences and fairs offer exhibitors and attendees a chance to circulate, directly network with peers and engage face to face, often displaying documents and prototypes. The COVID-19 pandemic prevents everyone walking the walk but does permit talking the talk and seeing the sights – all the better with an artificial intelligence- (AI) enabled platform.
Global meeting place
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s (HKTDC) hktdc.com Sourcing online trading platform has demonstrated solid performance since being upgraded in October last year to more efficiently connect global buyers and suppliers. Machine-learning and image-recognition technologies enhance business-matching efficiency and provide a more personalised smart-sourcing experience. Platform traffic grew 15% and enquiries rose 26% in the 2020/21 financial year ending in March. The platform has also garnered multiple internationally acclaimed awards.
Commenting on these achievements, HKTDC Deputy Executive Director Benjamin Chau (main picture, centre) said COVID-19 had prompted companies around the world to accelerate digitalisation and online sourcing is becoming more popular.
“The platform upgrading could not have been better timed. It enabled us to better connect buyers and suppliers just when online trading became all the more important amid pandemic-induced travel restrictions and distancing measures,” he added.
“The platform enjoys strong recognition among users and website professionals, and we are pleased to have received 13 prestigious awards in the past few months.”
The accolades include Best International Business Website, Best Marketing Website, Best Directory or Search Engine Website and Best Small Business Website from the Internet Advertising Competition; Best International Business Website and Best Small Business Website from MobileWebAwards; as well as Redesign/Relaunch Website and Video awards from Astrid Awards and Mercury Excellence Awards. It is the 10th consecutive year the platform has received MobileWebAwards.
The International Advertising Competition and MobileWebAwards are annual competitions organised by the Web Marketing Association of the United States to honour excellence in relation to websites and mobile apps. The annual Astrid Awards and Mercury Awards are organised by US-based MerComm, which aims to define standards of excellence in communications.
Flexi plan, maxi flan
With a database of 130,000 suppliers and 2 million buyers, hktdc.com Sourcing creates 24 million business connections a year. An authentication system assigns suppliers Gold, Silver and Bronze categories based on reputation and activity. HKTDC event participation records and the most recent data update time are also provided, giving buyers a useful reference as they seek the most suitable suppliers. The Third-party Authentication Service, meanwhile, allows suppliers to highlight credibility and product quality, strengthening buyer confidence.
Mr Chau said suppliers can purchase “boosters”, based on their business needs and promotion strategies to increase exposure on the hktdc.com Sourcing platform, enhancing their reach to potential business partners. “For users, this service has on average driven a 2.4-fold rise in business enquiries and 29-fold increase in exposure to buyers,” Mr Chau said.
New buyers, new markets
Buyers from economies that have free trade agreements with Hong Kong, such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, are more active on hktdc.com Sourcing, Mr Chau said. “Suppliers receive business enquiries mostly from ASEAN and other Asian countries [25%], followed by Europe [18%] and the Americas [17%]," Mr Chau said, adding that the top five enquired categories are gifts, toys & sports supplies; electronics; home products, lights & construction; health, beauty & baby care; and food & beverage.
Local governments and municipal trade promotion bodies in Mainland China, Italy, Japan and Korea have set up cluster zones on the platform to promote selected industries and special products from their respective countries and regions. The Federation of Hong Kong Industries and Hong Kong Exporters Association has also joined the platform to showcase members’ brands and designs.
Mr Chau said the HKTDC will further enhance its digital marketing services and develop virtual platforms to improve effectiveness of hybrid physical-online events, create seamless event experiences and enhance its 24/7 online business-matching services.
He added local companies can leverage the SME Export Marketing Fund – which has expanded its scope to cover such promotion-related work as video/product shooting and editing services – and free online training at the HKTDC’s Digital Academy to accelerate digital transformation and enhance online marketing competitiveness.
“We have invited specialists to share secrets of success in a series of Digital Academy online videos and webinars, with topics ranging from digital marketing, e-commerce, content development and surviving in the new normal, helping local SMEs master the basic knowledge and skills needed to start online business,” Mr Chau said.
The HKTDC will continue to organise quarterly online thematic promotions to create opportunities for various sectors, he said. “We received encouraging feedback on the first two promotions of this year, namely ‘Everything for Home’ and ‘Outdoor Living. We will focus on lifestyle and festive products in the second half of 2021.”