The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Thursday, April 19, 2018

Online auction shopping comes of age with multi-million pound bids say Barnebys
Yue Minjun, Untitled (Magritte Stone), 2006.

LONDON.- Online auctions are big business today despite teething difficulties at the start and concerns that people would not buy simply from images and copy on a website.

This was thought to be especially relevant to high price items like valuable paintings, antiques, classic cars and wine. The concern has proved totally wide of the mark and today Barnebys can report that art, culture, design and wine from $1 to $100 million is now available online – and is selling.

Pontus Silfverstolpe, co-founder of Barnebys the auction aggregater, said in the company’s recent Online Auction Report: “While the traditional auction room is still alive, we are seeing huge growth in online bidding by wealthy young people. Today, more than 50% of auction browsers and bidders aged 18-24 years use their mobile devices – phones, tablets, laptops to browse, compared with only 5% five years ago.

This shift in attitude has opened up the auction room to a wider audience. One of the most challenging problems facing auction houses – how to get a new generation to walk through their imposing front doors has been solved. They walk in now online. One of the unexpected benefits of mobile phones and the internet is the avalanche of young newcomers to the auction world. For decades auction houses have been concerned about the growing age profile of their clients and the problem of getting younger people into their premises which are seen as not very welcoming to younger people. But now that problem is solved thanks to IT and the whole profile of auction buyers and sellers has changed. The Millennial Generation has discovered auctions big time. And they love the hunt, the stock, the fact that buying at auction is another form of recycling, so very green and finally, that the buying process is so transparent.”

Damien Whitmore, Creative Director, Phillips: “Phillips has been and continues to be at the forefront of digital strategy, reaching the majority of our international collectors through an industry-leading emphasis on top of the line digital integration. The company’s website, mobile app, and digital saleroom, along with partnerships with Barnebys, eBay, Invaluable, and Artsy, provide collectors with the ability to engage in Phillips’ auctions through whichever channel they prefer.

In 2016, all auctions hosted by Phillips were broadcast live and offered online bidding. As a result of our growing digital infrastructure, we continue to see increased participation from bidders online, from all corners of the globe. Buyers are becoming increasingly confident in purchasing higher-value works of art online. In June 2016, Yue Minjun’s Untitled (Magritte Stone) sold to an online buyer for £965,000, setting a new auction record for the artist and a new record for any work Phillips has sold via its online channels.”

Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s CEO, said to the New York Times: “We have been looking at the globalization of the market in the last decade and need to be present where the clients are.”

Christie’s has expanded its program of online-only auctions for lower-value pieces. The company held 118 such events across 14 categories in 2016. Totalling 49.8 million British pounds, or about $60 million, these auctions represented just over one per cent of Christie’s total sales for the year, yet generated a third of the company’s new buyers. “The new clients are now coming to Christie’s through the online channel,” says Cerutti.

Damian Jones Head of Sales at H&H Classics says: “We sell more cars via the i-bidder, saleroom and bid spotter platforms than any of our rivals. The most significant online purchase at one of our auctions last year was the ex-Prince Philip 1954 Lagonda 3 Litre Drophead Coupe for £346,800. Our sales are now live streamed via YouTube and we supply a superior multi video camera feed to our online bidding partners so as to enhance the experience of those bidding via the World Wide Web. It is still hard to beat the excitement, drama and competitiveness of bidding in person but H&H recognizes that we are all living in an increasingly digital world.”

Claude Aguttes of Aguttes Auctions, France, says: “In 2017, 18% of our sales are online, while in 2016 it was 11.5% and in 2015, 8.2%. This statistic will likely change as in 2016 we held a total of 70 sales and thus far in 2017 we’ve had just 12 to date.” 

Louise Arén, CEO of Bukowskis the Swedish auction house, says: “We have seen a remarkably strong growth in our online biddings, both during hammer auctions and on our online auctions. Today we sell art, design and watches for hundreds of thousands SEK online every week, which was unthinkable, just a couple of years ago. A majority of the bidding during our hammer auctions comes from online clients and an impressive online bid of 14 million SEK during one of our hammer auction shows the importance of being digitally streamlined. The client is already there and so are we.”

But, in the first instance, how do you find what you are looking for online? One can browse online catalogues of all the major and many minor auction houses. Or, alternatively, go to an aggregator like Barnebys – in effect the Google of the art world – to see the latest sales of nearly 2,000 auction houses internationally.

If you do decide to bid in an online auction do bid in real time, live as you improve your chances rather than leaving an absentee bid and hoping for the best.

These days most auction houses provide the opportunity to log in online and watch the live auction, which will allow you to update your bid as though you were physically in the saleroom. And if something you liked but thought was out of your reach seems to be going for less than you had expected you can bid online and secure it just as easily as if you were there.

The benefits of using Barnebys for such a search is multi-faceted. First of all it provides you with choice, multiple examples of what you are searching for and allows you to ‘compare and contrast’ without moving from one website to another. The search takes seconds.

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