Christie’s Auctioneers Focused on Online Sales

Sep 22, 2017

Christie’s, a famous British auction house founded in 1766 by James Christie, is now focusing its efforts on online sales. In summer, Christie’s closed its South Kensington salesroom, after 42 years of ancillary sales of objects, antiques, and design pieces there. Many of those sales will become online-only.

Online Field for Auction Houses

Though the online field is still in the development stage for the auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, it’s often appealing to first-time auction buyers and collectors who shop for emerging artists. Sotheby’s, established in 1744 in London, is the world’s 4th oldest auction house in continuous operation.

Gemma Sudlow, head of private and iconic collections at Christie’s Inc. New York, focuses on personalizing online interaction just as she does with bidders in the room. As Ms. Sudlow notes, a large number of their clients travel, work full-time, and live busy lives. Christie’s general fee structure will still apply to online-only sales. No-fee Sotheby’s could result in a larger share of young and new buyers online.

Moreover, Guillaume Cerutti, chief executive officer at Christie’s, says they’re pleased to launch their new online course to a global audience this October.

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Buying Auction Items Online

According to a report by Hiscox, the main challenges associated with purchasing auction items online are as follows: buyers show caution about buying a fake or an object that is in poor condition, and the majority of purchases in art auctions are for lower-value artworks of less than $5.000.

According to Samantha Phillips, global head of digital sales for Asian art at Christie’s, clients, who are used to bidding online in a live auction via Christie’s Live, make online auction purchases, and vice versa.

There are 2 ways of buying items online at a Christie’s auction:

  1. Traditional Live Sales – These are conducted by an auctioneer. Buyers come to the auction house in person and literally show their hand, make a bid on the phone, or view the proceedings online via a camera in the salesroom.
  1. Online-Only Sales – These are conducted without auctioneers. Christie’s aims to encourage customers to its online auctions. In 2016, 118 online sales were registered (77 in 2015).

Today, its’ important for traditional auctioneers to respond to digital demands, a global customer base and the emergence of online auction houses. The 2017 Hiscox Online Art Trade report shows that the online art market sales are up from 4% of the overall art market in 2013 to 8.4% in 2016.

Christie’s reports its online spend increased by 112% in 2016. The greatest rise came from America (158%). Next was Asia (104%). 33% of new Christie’s customers were from the online platform.

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