Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Traditional auction houses move online

Competition, like similarity, isn't as symmetric as we think. Where once eBay competed with established auctioneers like Christies and Sotheby's, now they are playing catchup in the market that eBay pioneered.

Carol Vogel in the NY Times has the story: Gone, in an Instant Auction

"Right now it’s possible to click on and bid on a Warhol drawing, a Helmut Newton photograph and an ostrich Herm├Ęs Birkin bag. Often there is a selection of rare wines to be purchased there, too.
And last year, the auction house introduced a buy-it-now feature echoing eBay that offers a head-spinning variety of watches that can be snapped up instantly. “The main objective here is the acquisition of new clients,” said Steven P. Murphy, Christie’s chief executive. “We’re building our online business the old-fashioned way, brick by brick.”
So far the auction house says it has invested $50 million in hiring experts and building its own infrastructure. It dipped its toes in online-only auctions in 2011 with a sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s clothes and jewelry. That effort ramped up considerably last year when Christie’s held 51 online-only sales. Officials there said that number was increasing by 50 percent this year.
Both Christie’s and its rival Sotheby’s introduced online bidding during their live auctions about four years ago. Their success, coupled with the realization that a new population of online shoppers is waiting to be tapped around the world, is what is driving their focus on online-only sales.
While Christie’s is promoting its homegrown e-commerce business, Sotheby’s is taking a different route. In July it announced a partnership with eBay. In the next few months Sotheby’s plans to broadcast most of its live auctions on a new area of eBay’s website. And over time Sotheby’s and eBay will add more options for shoppers, including online-only sales. Sotheby’s hopes to lure eBay’s nearly 150 million customers into being as comfortable buying a 19th-century dining room table or Damien Hirst print as they are a new suitcase or a pair of sneakers.
“Both auction houses are racing to catch up with luxury retailing that has been a huge success online,” said Josh Baer, an art adviser who publishes the Baerfaxt, an industry newsletter, and who was hired by eBay last year to help shape its art programs. “It is now clear to everyone in the art business that it is no longer if online sales of art can happen, but who executes them best.”

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