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Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market Adapts to the Pandemic with Virtual Ease

While far from the normal Nutcracker, this year's online festivities will hopefully greet you warmly
While far from the normal Nutcracker, this year's online festivities will hopefully greet you warmly
Photo by Fulton Davenport
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Long a Bayou City tradition, the annual parade of trades merchants returns at the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market and thanks to a virtual leg-up from the folks at Map Dynamics, they’re making their 2020 season something truly unique. 

Evan Gappelberg, the CEO behind NexTech AR Solutions, which owns the subsidiary Map Dynamics, spokes on behalf of the coding wizards who made the leap to the net possible for the season of shopping, which is going on online through December 11.

“Technical challenges were that most people have never gone to a virtual event before,” Gappelberg acknowledges. “There’s a learning curve for people attending, and people thinking about doing a virtual event. Map Dynamics made it super easy... and kind of leveraged all their intimate knowledge of what goes on in a live event and put it into this virtual world. Its worked remarkably well for them.”

Considered to be one of the major events of the Houston Holiday season, taking this mammoth community occasion into digital space was no easy feat. “The Virtual Nutcracker Market is a big one for sure, with 150 exhibitors. That’s substantial: 750,000 exhibitor views, almost 80,000 event visitors so far. There’s substantial interest and it’s being received quite well," says Gappelberg. "It’s accessible. You can go online and go to the event until December 11. There [were] over 107,000 customers who spent $20 million at the live event in 2019. We don’t have the numbers for 2020 yet, but this just shows you the demand for what’s being sold.”

Describing the experience for the internet novice, the business leader says the journey starts with understanding the site’s floor plan. “It really enables attendees to go and browse for exhibitors, either by name, booth number or category,” he explains. “It’s really robust search capabilities. If you know the name of your favorite booth, you can search for it. That’s a big deal, makes it easy to find. Additionally have the business’s story, product images, video and chat. All of that is available! So once you find the booth that you’re looking for, typically if you went to a live event, the booth might be busy. You might not get to talk to the person running the booth. In the virtual world, that’s not a problem.

"You can read about the story of that business and the booth owner, and if you want to chat with them, you can do it virtually - which is pretty cool. You can actually open up a video and converse with the person in the booth! It’s a traditional online shopping experience, but it’s a whole lot more. It’s a lot more engaging. You think of Amazon, its just click click click. It’s very anonymous. This is not like that. This is actually personalized, and it’s a full immersive experience. As immersive as you can get.”

While the tech company seems proud to have helped a city tradition boldly transform considering during this current game-changing year, the Virtual Nutcracker Market shouldn’t be discussed without acknowledging some of the benefactors of the sales made through out the month-long extravaganza: the Houston Ballet Foundation. “We get to fund the academy and create scholarship programs,” the CEO exclaims, adding: “It’s always great when you can do well and do good at the same time.”

Patrons can log on and shop at NutcrackerMarket.com through December 11. Free.

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