Art galleries and dealers are now going digital in a bid to attract new collectors. High quality service needs to be part of the package.

Gallery owners counting on e-commerce to boost artwork sales

The Art market, which has a reputation for being difficult to access both from a geographical and a cultural point of view, is now gradually undergoing major changes in its business model as online sales begin to take off in a big way. A recent report commissioned by the international specialist insurance group Hiscox estimates that online art transactions, which today account for a mere 2% of the market, are likely to increase by 150% by 2017, attaining a total value close to $2.1 billion. In fact, online artwork sales are already an everyday reality, with 64% of the collectors surveyed for the report saying they buy works of art directly online. The recent arrival on the market of giant e-tailerAmazon, with its launch of the Amazon Fine Art Store, joining Artsyand some major names in the art world such as Saatchi (with itsSaatchi Online site) only confirms a definite trend which has been picking up pace over the last few years.

New channels broadening the market

For the majority of gallery owners, going digital simply means extending their physical gallery, and capitalising on their reputation. An alternative scenario sees galleries teaming up with e-commerce giants such as Amazon, which is today already working with over 150 galleries. This digital transformation means that sellers of artwork can reach new market segments – both as regards types of buyers and in terms of the works of art on offer. Among galleries that are already selling via their website, 72% said their online-only sales were aimed at new collectors,a mostly younger clientele. Some 43% of buyers aged 25-29 responding to the survey say they have acquired works of art online and 67% are prepared to do so again.

Reputation and authenticity are key

In order to attract more experienced collectors however, online platforms and galleries need to improve the security and traceability of online transactions. Some 80% of all collectors see authenticity and provenance of works of art as the main obstacle to online purchasing and also want to be able to obtain information on the current condition of the artwork – options which Amazon does not currently offer. The most customer-oriented strategies call for a hybrid approach, for example when the Saatchi Gallery launched its online only platform, it collaborated with the curators at MoMA in New York and at the Palais de Tokyo art centre in Paris, in order to provide authoritative backing for its catalogue. This sort of collaboration seems to be the most promising path to follow. Amazon, having teamed up with  a number of galleries,has now announced the creation of an app developed in tandem with ArtPrice, the world leader in art market information, which is designed to help clients value the works on offer.

By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst