Buying art digitally has never been more popular, three recent developments and studies show. Whether buying online through websites or live auction feeds or using an app on your smartphone, it is now much easier to pick your art without ever seeing it in person.
A survey from Hiscox, the insurers, shows that 71 per cent of collectors have bought art online, sight unseen, relying only on a digital image, and 26 per cent of these have spent over £50,000 buying art online. The most common purchase level was £1,000-10,000.
The survey, of nearly 300 collectors, also estimated that by 2017, $2.1 billion would be spent on art online, compared with $870 million – or 1.6 per cent of the total art market – last year. (The total art market last year was $56 billion, according to the TEFAF Report 2013.)
It is not clear, however, that all galleries are aware of or interested in this online market: 41 per cent did not have an e-commerce strategy, while the rest were evenly split between building their own system, partnering with an existing one and doing both.
Other recent developments emphasise how important the digital is becoming in collecting art and antiques.
Art through an app
Antiques dealer Ronald Phillips announced that they have embraced the online world by creating a smartphone app and website. Through the app, potential buyers can browse photos of Ronald Phillips’ stock, from Chippendale bookcases to Charles II mirrors, complete with descriptions, provenance and literature.
Pictured left: A screenshot from Ronald Phillips’ iPhone app
The website is similarly detailed, however purchases cannot be made through either method: you must contact the dealer directly.
Simon Phillips spoke about how going online fits with the nature of their clients: ‘Our clients are extraordinarily busy people living and working on several continents and a dozen time zones. By necessity they chose to do business with companies that make themselves as accessible as possible.
‘The last few years have seen a radical change in the way business is
conducted. Dealers who hope to grow their businesses must adapt with the
times and find ways to make buying and selling the very finest antiques
work for today’s clients.’
Meanwhile, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips (the auction house, not the antiques dealer) all have iPad apps to allow catalogue browsing and their clients can watch and bid on auctions online with live-streamed video and instantly updated bids.
Pictured above: A screenshot from a live auction on Sotheby’s website
One may question, however, whether seeing the work as a digital image will create the same emotional bond as seeing it in person. Clearly, for some art collectors, that is either not the case or is unimportant. What is clear is that buying art online is only going to become more common.