The Many Sides of Online Selling

What are the choices for Arts and Antique Dealers to sell online?

The decision of how to represent yourself online can be daunting, especially when confronted with an industry that is increasingly going online: trends show that arts and antiques transactions will comprise a $10B industry by 2020. Yet, with pressure to augment your business with a coherent online strategy, options for art and antiques dealers are limited when it comes to finding venues to represent their brands online. Here’s a short list:

1 — Join an aggregator — Services like 1stdibs, RubyLux and InCollect provide a listing service, allowing them to pay for representation on the site. In theory, by pooling many professional’s inventory together, they can connect potential buyers with the item users upload through their branded portal and catalog search functions.

2 — Use a liquidation service — On sites like Invaluable and Liveauctioneers, those looking to sell their items with a short turnover can place their items for auction, or fixed price, and can reach anyone currently looking for those items in order to potentially drive a purchase. What these venues lack in luxury representation and ability to command a high price, they make up for with immediacy and the potential of successfully selling an item in a discernible timeframe.

3 — Strike out on your own — For those dealers who don’t find listing services or instant liquidation right for them, there are a number of options ranging from generic web products like Squarespace and Shopify, or more trade-specific products like Artlogic or Masterpiece Manager, for making websites that display both their goods or services. While lacking in marketing power, support, and exposure, users have full control over the cost of the platform and messaging for their own brand.

The biggest problem for most professional art sellers, even those sellers who run and operate their own websites, is the decision on which items are cost-effective to digitalize, and which are not.

At the lower end of the price spectrum, innovation has largely come through changing the method of how goods become available, are sold, and are fulfilled. In fact, until Amazon revolutionized shopping with two-day prime delivery, most people thought that an entire spectrum of goods would simply struggle to sell online. Ease and accessibility were the stumbling blocks, but Amazon changed the way consumers defined those characteristics.

Those early digital commerce issues still haunt the arts industry. The lowest-hanging fruit are the best pieces for their high returns and relative cost efficiency, and thus most art marketplaces focus on them, which is why the majority of items on high end marketplaces fall in a four-to-five-digit price range. Anything above that, and the sales process is too constrained; anything below doesn’t justify the cost of production or fulfillment.

Items that require extra production, command high shipping prices, or are deemed too difficult to sell, are not worth the effort on such venues, and ultimately end up on sites like eBay that command lower prices in exchange for ease of use.

Furthermore, the reason many industry professionals don’t sell online is because they see their business. In order for their businesses to stay afloat, they have to sell in any way they can.

The ultimate effect is that small arts businesses are increasingly forced to use some mixture of all three venues in order to sell the varying levels of product they represent in their offline incarnation. This leads to higher overhead costs, more time spent switching between modes of production, more organizational challenges, duplication of efforts, and perhaps most important, a fracturing of intent (and marketing dollars) between methods and marketplaces.

Certainly, if the Hiscox Art Report is correct in anticipating the continued growth of the art market online, there need to be better ways to capture the growing demand for online marketplace sales, especially as most aggregator marketplaces require the seller to invest time, effort and money into promoting their goods on their site. The industry needs to find its “Amazon” solution in order to move forward.