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Christie’s shows how traditional businesses can adapt to online auctions

Venerable 246 year old auction house Christie’s will in three weeks time launch its first exclusively online auction. “As a way of doing business, online-only sales are a very natural progression that provides our clients with even more opportunities to build and broaden their collections,” says Vice President Scott Torrence.

The firm has been greatly encouraged by the success of the online portion of their Collection of Elizabeth Taylor auction, which brought in a total of $9.5 million – dramatically exceeding the $1 million estimate. An online charity auction of Hermes handbags also exceeded expectations by raising over $200, 000. “The success of these two pilots demonstrates our clients around the world are eagerly embracing online-only sales as a regular addition to Christie’s calendar of traditional live auctions,” says CEO Steven Murphy. “Almost one in three of the bids we get at Christie’s are now via the internet. We’ve invested in this area during the past decade, and online is now something that is just exploding. In terms of access to Christie’s, the doors have completely swung open.”

Christie’s is by no means a newcomer to the online world. The auction house already webcasts many of their live auctions onto the Internet, giving Internet users the opportunity to participate. The firm has even introduced iPhone and iPad apps.

There has been a huge move towards buying online in recent years, and the traditional auction world and art & antiques business are no exception. Although traditional buyers were at first uncertain, they have become increasingly at ease with online auctions and Internet bidding has come to be seen as a normal part of the auction process. Online auctions make it easy for consumers with little industry knowledge to find and purchase goods, and tend to attract more young or first-time buyers than offline art and antiques sales.

So far live auction webcasting appears to be the dominant form of dedicated online art and antiques auctioning. However, exclusively online art and antiques auctions are rising in popularity. This new step by Christie’s signals a promising future and shows how even the most traditional of businesses can adapt to the online world.

Online-only auctions offer numerous benefits over live auctions. They are more cost-effective and require less preparation, and thus can run more frequently. They run for longer periods of time and reach a wider audience – both of which increase revenue. With regards to live auction webcasting specifically, online-only auctions have the advantage of bidders being certain of what is going on in the auction – there is no need to be concerned about any potential time lags between live bidding and Internet bidding.

The art and antiques market appears to be little affected by the current economic climate, and is indeed thriving. Therefore, now is an ideal time to branch out into online sales. Christie’s has already announced its commitment to expand even further into the online world in the future – with fine art, wine, watches and private collections being their particular targets at the moment.

Online auctions need not take the place of your company’s offline sales, but could instead be an additional offering to your established traditional live auctions. The online expansion of prestigious auction houses such as Christie’s has greatly improved the public perception of online art and antiques auctions and we hope to see this area of online auctioning continue to flourish.

You can read about the auction software packages we can offer here.

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