The most digital-savvy art businesses are developing business intelligence systems to support their digital sales strategies. In the context of a booming contemporary art market and the fact that one in four of the top lots in this spring’s evening sales were bought by new customers, John Dizard writes in Friday’s Financial Times (Auction houses embracing digital technology to sell to the new global rich):
While the most visible aspect of the houses’ digital revolution may be their online auctions, the most essential is in the systematising and networking of their customer, market and lot information.
Christie’s Steven P. Murphy echoes statements he made in previous months about the imperative driving his business’s digital strategy. Their customers were researching and purchasing art online. Christie’s needed to create “a digital version of the Christie’s experience in a platform-agnostic way.” A key part of Murphy’s digital strategy is an internal customer data intelligence platform called ‘James Map’ which joins up customer information throughout Christie’s and makes it available to Christie’s staff globally through internal applications. Whenever and wherever a customer interacts with Christie’s, all intelligence about them will be at the fingertips of Christie’s staff. FT.com quotes Christie’s Ken Citron, head of IT: “We are a global company now, with global clients. Our having technology allows them to have a consistent experience across the world.”
A fundamental question about digital strategy is behind Christie’s latest digital investments: Is there greater benefit in outsourcing technology and platform provision, or in in-house development (at considerable cost). Sotheby’s partnership with eBay is an example of the former; Christie’s is betting on the latter. Dizard’s article closes with a warning from Murphy about the dangers of disintermediation in digital markets. Perhaps with his publishing background, Murphy is thinking of how publishers have been disintermediated from their market by Amazon, a fate he is determined to avoid at Christie’s. Sotheby’s (and particularly Dan Loeb) will doubtless be watching with interest.
- Auction houses embracing digital technology to sell to the new global rich (FT.com, 19 September 2014)
Today, Sotheby’s formally announces its eBay partnership, and both companies flesh out some detail on their future strategies. Intriguingly, Sotheby’s is described as “a preeminent anchor tenant in the revamped marketplace” – a description which will worry those who consider this move a risk to the Sotheby’s premier brand. Continue reading
In 2013, Dan Loeb wrote that “Sotheby’s is like an old master painting in desperate need of restoration.” Now, a little more than a year later after a bloody boardroom battle and with three seats on the Sotheby’s board, the company is getting ready to make its first big digital play with Loeb and his deputies in the room.
The New York Times reports today that Sotheby’s and eBay have formed a partnership to stream Sotheby’s sales worldwide. It’s tempting to ask is this 12-year old idea the best Loeb can come up with? Both companies worked together on a similar project in 2002 but it was quickly shelved. Perhaps this time around it will be different – the difference being that under Loeb’s influence, Sotheby’s is now more comfortable in loosening its collar and using technology to chase a higher volume, lower value end of the art market. This would be consistent with Loeb’s 2013 statement: Continue reading
In their Q4 and full year 2013 financial results cover note, Sotheby’s detailed the company’s continued investment in digital services, emphasizing mobile, increased engagement times, reach (particularly in Asia) and language localization:
- Sotheby’s continues to invest in its digital media strategy via the sothebys.com website and its iPad and Android applications to facilitate Sotheby’saccessibility to clients on mobile platforms.
- The website and BIDnow live auction bidding platform were both redesigned in 2013 to enable each to work across all tablet and mobile platforms, resulting in a significant increase in client usage, including
- a 45% increase in online bidding,
- a 50% increase in Asian client traffic, and
- a 25% increase in time spent on mobile devices.
- In addition, clients in the Sotheby’s Preferred client loyalty program have doubled their visits to sothebys.com over the past year, illustrating both the reach of mobile technology and the impact of a more engaging online experience with multi-lingual (e.g., Chinese) content.
The weekly US financial newspaper, Barron’s, in a blog posting Friday November 8th by Robert Milburn (“Art Auctions Head Online“) frames the current technology-driven transformation of the art market as an opposition between the traditional Goliaths, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and the upstart Davids represented by “tiny” Paddle8. This opposition brings to mind Malcolm Gladwell’s phrase regarding his latest book, the “mighty leverage of the unconventional.”
In a Sotheby’s press release dated today 7 October, CK Cheung, Head of Sotheby’s Chinese Painting Department says:
The results of today’s sale of Fine Chinese Paintings are testament to the appeal of Sotheby’s careful sourcing strategy of assembling works of great quality with high artistic value at attractive estimates. Sotheby’s stature as an international auction house allowed us to offer paintings from an important North American private collection which appeal to our clients.
I hope you don’t mind the informality – not to mention my writing to you via the internet. It seems to be all the rage these days! The online art world has been abuzz since Mr Loeb delivered his latest epistle, dated 2 October, setting out his opinions about Sotheby’s need to “develop a coherent plan for an internet sales strategy” among other things.