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Covid in China Could Affect Event-Merchandise Orders

With Chinese factories producing less and freight trips across the Pacific being cancelled more often, meeting hosts, sponsors, and exhibitors might want to rethink their approach to attendee gifts and giveaways this year.

The huge surge in Covid cases in China over the past two months is taking a toll on the volume of consumer products available in the U.S. and around the world, according to this article on

Electronic items and accessories, apparel and hats, bags and cases, and other items commonly used as gifts and giveaways at meetings, trade shows, and incentive programs could require more time for fulfillment and shipping from China—or might need to be obtained from elsewhere.

Lisa Burton, senior vice president for CMI 25 events agency Meeting Expectations, answered a few questions for MeetingsNet about her firm’s approach to procuring merchandise for 2023 events and how other planners can adapt.

MeetingsNet: How far out do you typically order merchandise for event clients, and has that changed recently to account for the uncertainty in China?
Lisa Burton: Ordering lead times have gone from just a couple of months to as long as five months. Fortunately, we’ve been able to source client-requested products in quantities we need from suppliers who have proactively brought them in from overseas [without confirmed orders]. Basically, the promo-product industry is forecasting what will be the hot items and getting those in stock before orders are placed. It’s certainly a bit of a gamble, and there might be storage fees added to our final cost, but having the product you want in the time frame you need makes the cost increase worth it.

MeetingsNet: Are you still getting most of the items your clients want?
Lisa Burton: Not all the time; we are experiencing situations where there are fewer options and variations with some popular products, so we’ve been asking our vendors to source the best quality product that’s in our price range from multiple locations around the world. But it’s important to have early, open conversations with your client about the limitations you might be facing, and about alternative product possibilities.

MeetingsNet: What else would you say to planners as they procure products for events in 2023 and early 2024?
Lisa Burton: Our advice for the near term is to order less and purchase higher-quality items. With inflation a factor too, we’ve adjusted our mindset to “quality versus quantity” to ensure we are providing thoughtful items and a gifting experience that exceeds expectations. Many of our U.S.-based clients are now focused on using items made in the U.S. If you are using sponsored items like water bottles, notebooks, or baseball caps, then increase the sponsor fee and move to quality brands your attendees know and will want to use.

Also, we’ve been building experiences around giveaways and gifts whenever we can. For instance, having “action stations” on site where attendees can pick out custom patches to be applied to caps and hats, or design their own t-shirts, or choose custom embroidery elements on a conference bag. Allowing attendees to be a part of the experience often ensures they keep the item and will talk about the event with enthusiasm. Sustainable items are also near the top of the list of preferences for both event hosts and recipients.

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