Auction Houses vs The Internet

Alchemy Admin, November 28, 2019

Throughout the years, high end retailers and luxury brands alike have been reluctant to market their products online and have shied away from the use of digital selling channels in the past. This is a conscious decision made by influential figures within such companies wanting to preserve the sense of exclusiveness that comes with purchasing from a luxury outlet. However, the way in which consumers are shopping has drastically changed over the last decade with more and more demographics choosing to browse and purchase goods online.

The Social Function Auction

I attended the Art Business Conference which took place in September of this year, where The Art Newspaper’s Art Market Editor Anna Brady moderated a compelling discussion between four industry professionals, who each expressed their opinion of online selling within Auction Houses. Adrian Biddle, head of paintings and fine art at Chiswick Auctions, stated that online biddings make up 80% of their overall sales. Online Auctions focus more on the middle market engaging additional audiences and in turn increasing overall sales. Thomas Galbraith, Chief Executive Offer at Hindman Auction’s, stated that whilst a portion of their sales are made via the internet, they conduct significantly less of their auctions online. A conscious decision made by the business as a way of remaining true to the traditional method of bid and buy selling.

Some argue that utilising the internet as a platform to sell goods can distract from the passion behind the pieces being offered. Auction houses have long since been a place where consumers go to socialise and purchase rare and exclusive pieces all the while attending a physical auction helps to form intimate relationships between artists, collectors and auction houses.

The change in times is reflected by the rise of Online Auctions

As auction houses have entered the digital age, millennials and first-time buyers are increasingly taking an interest. Jonathon Burford, Vice President and Specialist at Sotheby’s, is a firm believer in traditional Auction Houses embracing online selling stating that they “add to our offering for collectors”. Burford has recently been involved in auctions for goods such as rare sneakers, street art and 21st Century movie posters, all of which attracted an overwhelming amount of attention from a youthful demographic of bidders and buyers who are used to shopping online.

This is a pattern which is reflected within the Fine Art Shipping industry. Edouard Gouin, the founder of International Fine Art Shipping company ‘Convelio’ stated that "74% of the HNW collectors are coming from generations X, Y or Z and that means that they all either saw the birth of large technology group or grew up with them. They expect to buy art the way they buy shoes on ASOS: flawlessly, without having to speak with a logistics department to figure out the shipping cost and delivery times."

Additionally, online auctions are also a way of keeping overhead costs down and profits high, selling large volumes of stock at a fast rate. Robert Ketterer, owner and CEO of Ketterer Kunst is a firm believer in online Art Auctions. “We are convinced that online auctions will fill the vacuum that inevitably emerges when numerous objects can no longer be offered in the auction room because of the logistics required and the high costs of catalogues.”

Where does this leave us?

We’ve established that a traditional auction allows for potential buyers to examine items up close and there’s an important social element that comes with attending. But on the other hand, the benefits involved with an online auction opens the market up to a wider audience and saves on cost. It could be argued that consumers should focus more on the value and quality of the item they are purchasing rather than the auction forum itself. However, would the lucrative profits outweigh these traditional methods? Whether you are for or against the practice of selling online, there is no doubt that auction houses will continue to adapt as needed and embrace the digital world.

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