Auction Houses vs Online Bidding
Fine Art

Auction Houses vs Online Bidding

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High-end retailers and luxury brands have been hesitant to offer their items online in the past, and have avoided using digital selling platforms. This is a deliberate decision taken by powerful figures within such organisations who want to maintain the illusion of exclusivity that comes with shopping at a high-end store. However, during the last decade, the way customers shop has changed dramatically, with an increasing number of demographics opting to explore and purchase things online, particularly since the COVID pandemic.

The Social Function Auction

Our Fine Art team attended the Art Business Conference in September 2019, where Anna Brady, Art Market Editor of The Art Newspaper, mediated a lively conversation between four industry professionals, each of whom voiced their thoughts on online selling within Auction Houses. Online bidding accounts for 80% of Chiswick Auctions' overall sales, according to Adrian Biddle, Head of Paintings & Fine Art. Online auctions are more focused on the middle market, attracting new audiences and increasing overall revenues. While a fraction of Hindman Auction's transactions are made via the internet, the company conducts far fewer auctions online, according to Thomas Galbraith, Chief Executive Offer. The company made a strategic decision to stick to the old manner of selling via bidding and buying.

Some believe that using the internet as a platform for selling goods can detract from the passion that goes into the creation of the items on offer. 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 Rise Of Online Auctions Reflects The Change In Times

Millennials and first-time purchasers are becoming more interested in auction houses as they move into the digital age. Sotheby's Vice President & Specialist Jonathon Burford believes that traditional auction houses should embrace online selling since it "adds to our offering for collectors." Burford has lately participated in auctions for items such as rare sneakers, street art, and 21st Century movie posters, all of which drew a large number of bidders and buyers from a younger population who are accustomed to purchasing online.

This is a pattern that can be seen in the fine art shipping business. According to Edouard Gouin, the founder of the worldwide fine art shipping company Convelio, "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."

Furthermore, selling big amounts of products at a fast rate allows online auctions to keep overhead expenses low and earnings high. The owner and CEO of Ketterer Kunst, Robert Ketterer, is a great believer in online art auctions. "We are certain that online auctions will fill the void that will eventually arise when a large number of artefacts can no longer be offered in the auction room due to logistical and catalogue costs."

What Does This Mean for Us?

We've shown that a traditional auction allows potential purchasers to examine objects up close and that attendance has a significant social component. On the other hand, the advantages of an online auction include the ability to reach a bigger audience and cost savings. It could be claimed that instead of focusing on the auction forum, buyers should concentrate on the value and quality of the object they are purchasing. Would the profitable gains, on the other hand, exceed the old methods? Whether you like or oppose the practice of selling online, there's no denying that auction houses have adapted and embraced the digital age.