IT fairs losing shine but SingTel game for next one

At least one telco has confirmed it is taking part in Singapore's next consumer tech and electronics show - ending talk that the three telcos here have sworn off such fairs after their glaring absence at Comex last week.

It was the first time all three missed a major tech event, in this case Singapore's largest consumer IT show. Their absence also came amid signs that these fairs are growing less popular with exhibitors.

SingTel told The Straits Times this week it will be at Sitex, due to be held by the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation from Nov 27 to 30.

While StarHub and M1 would not confirm their participation in Sitex, they said they have not ruled out tech trade shows and remain in talks with organisers.

An M1 spokesman told The Straits Times it did not take part in Comex as "there were no major devices launched in that period". StarHub's reasons include customers not liking long queues at tech fairs and preferring to go to its retail stores.

SingTel said it could pass the savings from not participating in IT shows to its customers in the form of more attractive discounts.

These fairs seem to have grown less popular with exhibitors. For instance, the PC Show, held annually by Lines Exposition and Management Services, took up 350,000 sq ft in 2011 but only 215,000 sq ft this June. Comex had six floors of Suntec in 2009 but only two this year.

Some exhibitors cited disappointing returns and rising costs.

Mr Ben Tan, chief operating officer of IT retailer Challenger, said: "Most of our expectations for sales at such shows have not been met in the past two years."

Challenger is focusing on regular in-store promotions at its 45 retail outlets instead. "The rent is already paid for. We just need to hire an emcee and set up speakers," said Mr Tan.

An exhibitor who declined to be named said setting up and manning a regular 10m by 10m booth costs at least $200,000, up from $130,000 two years ago.

Japan-based labelling machine and printer maker Brother also decided from last year not to have a booth at the IT Show, the PC Show, Comex or Sitex because of "low returns". "There are too many tech fairs here competing for the same marketing dollars," said Singapore country manager Nigel Lee.

In total, there are six such fairs here - two new ones came in last year, the Consumer Electronics Exhibition and the SG Tech Show.

Still, some exhibitors remain plugged into such events, seeing them as a "branding investment".

"The shows bring in a large crowd of people who are genuinely interested in tech products," said Mr Vincent Sim, ASEAN general manager of printer maker Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific.

Microsoft took part in Comex, where it launched its Surface Pro 3 laptop-tablet hybrid and sold 99 per cent of the available stock. It did not give actual figures. Mr Ian Tan, who leads the Surface consumer business at Microsoft Singapore, said: "An IT show is a chance for vendors and retailers to engage with a high volume of customers in a short time. It is also a good time to launch new products."

Comex organiser Exhibits Inc, a subsidiary of Sphere Exhibits, the events and exhibitions arm of Singapore Press Holdings, said such fairs remain relevant for connecting with customers. Mr Eric Ng, head of marketing at Exhibits, said the fair offers a "carnival-like experience" that "cannot be easily replicated".

This article was published on Sept 5 in The Straits Times.

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