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Conferences also won’t be the same

Online Meetings

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With the accelerating rollout of vaccines offering reason to hope that the COVID-19 pandemic may soon end and allow life to return to normal again, the question is, what will normal look like?

For retailers and their suppliers, that question is normally framed around whether or not consumers will snap back to their pre-2020 shopping habits. Will they rush back into brick-and-mortar stores to the same extent that they used to, or will some of their increased use of order pickup or home delivery over the past year become permanent?

But the same question could also be asked of the way retailers and suppliers do business with each other. Will a year of virtual conferences convince companies to keep some events virtual after the pandemic is over, even as some or even most big events go back to the way they were before?

A couple of upcoming retail industry events will likely showcase the best of what virtual events can offer, while also reminding some veteran conference goers of their limitations.

First up is this year’s National Association of Chain Drug Stores Annual Meeting, which will be held virtually April 26 to April 28. NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson expressed regret that “we are unable to meet together in person due to the circumstances of the COVID pandemic,” but he emphasized that the virtual event would nevertheless be compelling.

NACDS noted that in addition to “relevant and timely” business programs — including presentations by former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and presidential historian and author Jon Meacham — the virtual event will offer opportunities for top-to-top meetings between companies. The event will also provide recognition for NACDS members’ service to their communities and nation; allow expanded participation by NACDS member company staff teams; and provide a compelling platform from which to tell the pharmacy industry’s story publicly, the association said.

FMI is set to hold its Midsummer Strategic Executive Exchange conference as an online-only event in June. “We had hoped Midsummer would be a celebratory return to an in-person event for our business leaders in June,” FMI president and CEO Leslie Sarasin explained. “However, the environment continues to demand and reaffirm the need for a digital forum that encourages extensive trading partner collaboration as our country moves toward economic recovery.”

Sarasin also highlighted what the event would have to offer, including networking, discussions and private trading partner meetings through FMI’s Strategic Executive Exchange program.

It feels safe to predict that both of these events will leave many virtual attendees longing for a return to in-person meetings. But the events will still deliver real value, and they will be more cost effective and efficient for some people. And the technology will only get better.

So another safe bet is that the future of industry events, like the future of the retail industry itself, will likely be an omnichannel one.