For the past decade, the Retail Global conference has brought the eCommerce community together at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre – but this year’s event presented unpredictable challenges.
With a packed line-up of highly sought-after speakers, an eCommerce-focused Expo Hall and a variety of workshops and networking opportunities, Retail Global Gold Coast is an opportunity for eCommerce practitioners to discuss the best practices for selling online.
After initially rotating between Melbourne and Sydney for the first five years of the conference, Retail Global founder and CEO Phil Leahy made the decision to relocate the event to the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) a decade ago – and he’s never looked back.
DESTINATION: GOLD COAST
“We were a big city conference, so it was a big punt to bring the event to the Gold Coast,” he remembers. “It’s ended up being one of the greatest choices we’ve ever made.”
Leahy, who also hosts conferences in the United States and New Zealand, says Retail Global returns to the Gold Coast every year because of the commitment of the GCCEC team.
“One of the reasons we keep coming back to GCCEC is because they have the best team we’ve dealt with anywhere in the world,” he says.
“We’ve done shows in Las Vegas and New York, we’ve dealt with all the major players like Caesars Entertainment, and these guys are the best there is at what they do. They’re incredibly professional, and they’re committed to looking after us and our customers, who are our attendees. That’s why we keep choosing this venue and why we keep coming back.
“It’s also a destination event. Our attendees are always excited about coming to the Gold Coast. And we’re always looking for cost-effective locations, and this fits the bill – there’s plenty of accommodation around the venue of all types, and people can easily walk to the venue from their accommodation.”
This year’s event took place under particularly challenging circumstances. After the coronavirus forced the Retail Global team to postpone last year’s conference on the Gold Coast, this was set to be their first in-person event since hosting the VIP Awards to open NRF Retail Week in New York last January.
After liaising with the client for more than a year ahead of the event, GCCEC was prepared to host Retail Global from 29-31 March 2021. But on the first morning of the conference, one last major obstacle reared its head when a sudden three-day lockdown was announced for Greater Brisbane.
GCCEC Event Manager Belinda Crofts says the announcement required significant adjustments to be made.
“As part of that announcement, for example, it was decided that all food and beverage had to be served while attendees were seated,” she explains. “Of course, events like this are traditionally designed for networking, with attendees standing and mingling. In order to adhere to those restrictions and make that adjustment, we took all of the food service stations out of the exhibition space and moved them into an adjoining area and put additional seating into the exhibition space.
“The biggest challenge was to do with numbers. With the lockdown, it was impossible to know how many people were going to come to each day of the event. The client hosted 600 people at the welcome cocktail event and the number sat around 500 for the remainder of the event.
“It was important for us to be flexible and fast-acting – Retail Global has been a loyal client for many years. We have a longstanding relationship and it was crucial for us to maintain that.”
Despite the challenges, Crofts says that those who attended this year’s Retail Global conference still reaped the benefits.
“Retail Global hosted a Happy Hour cocktail reception that became a seated event, and the feedback we got from the attendees was overwhelmingly positive. People reported that they were getting much stronger leads because they were sitting and having one-on-one conversations, as opposed to the quick interactions you’d usually have at a cocktail reception.
“The circumstances weren’t perfect, but there were positives for the people who were there. And I’m proud of our team for being able to adjust with a moment’s notice – you put months’ worth of planning into these things, and everything turns within 30 minutes. But we were able to adapt, roll with the changes and still run a successful conference.”
While the lockdown was lifted after three days, GCCEC’s standard COVID Safe protocols remain in place moving forward.
These include reducing capacity to enable social distancing; following strict contact tracing protocols; providing abundant hygiene stations and signage; replacing self-service food stations with stations staffed by employees; serving only bottled beverages; and assigning staff to act as COVID ambassadors and ensure best practices are followed by all employees and visitors on site.
Ultimately, despite the challenges of the present moment, Retail Global CEO Phil Leahy believes in-person events will always be preferable to their virtual alternatives.
“At the end of the day, we’re all human and we need to share,” he says. “We get so much more information by meeting other people in a physical sense – it’s so much easier to build trust and empathy in person. It’s just a different dynamic than the virtual experience.
“Our determination to meet face to face combined with GCCEC’s provision of a safe conference and exhibition environment and a flexible team allowed our exhibitors, delegates and speakers to have a successful experience at the 2021 conference.”
GCCEC is welcoming events to our approved COVID Safe venue. Please contact us to discuss our amplified safety measures, revised capacities, menus and virtual event options, and find out more about our Site Specific COVID Safe Plan here.