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Five precious lessons for galleries that want to sell online

Caio Blanco
2 Apr 2020, 11:25 am

Recently, we published on this website an article about the consequences of the current social distance in the digitalization processes of the art world. We went through facts around how a world – which today is physically isolated – has surrendered to the Internet almost as a single outlet to promote and foster the continuity of its business.

We have already pointed out in more than one opportunity that the art market seemed to be the last resistant barrier to the digitization processes: galleries were suspicious of the effectiveness of online platforms for negotiating works of art, historically they did not like the idea of ​​including work prices in a digital catalog and always insisted that face-to-face contact could never be replaced.

Well: either through organic development – or through the current painful process of social isolation on account of COVID-19 – this last barrier seems to be rapidly diluting and the agents of art are now forced to resort to the online so as not to brake their activities.

In order to explore this new world with more knowledge, SP-Arte highlights here five precious teachings on what works when it comes to selling works of art online – lessons that we learned through our own experience with our online commercial platform, SP-Arte 365, and also in conversations and exchanges with our partner galleries that are more advanced in the digitization processes.


Forget the intuitive guess on what sells and who buys online

When faced with online sales, it is almost obvious that we imagine a certain type of work that will sell well and also a certain type of buyer who will be active on the networks. We have a tendency to imagine vibrant, pop, perhaps not very large, photographs, works by artists on the rise or in fashion. We also imagine, right away, that those who will buy these works are only members of generation X and Y, more accustomed to the digital medium. Forget all that.

Online sales experience of mega-galleries such as David Zwirner show the ability of the digital medium to sell works with very high average price points, going beyond the million, by well established artists, including even large sculptures. Additionally, everyone is connected: millennials, the generation Z, the oldest dealers, longtime collectors, museums and other artists. Online is for everyone and everything!


Transparency works for all dealing agents

We cannot highlight enough how price transparency is critical to the success of online sales. To paraphrase Caroline Carrion, communication coordinator at Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, in a recent article for SP-Arte, “messages sent by Artsy platform users to galleries about works whose prices are available are four to nine times more likely to convert in sales than those whose prices are hidden. In addition, works with available prices are the subject of only 1/6 of the messages in relation to those that are not accompanied by value, which means a considerable saving of working time for galleries. ”

In Art Basel’s very recent online viewing room, galleries were obliged to price their works. If not the exact value, at least an approximate range. This brings greater transparency to the prospective buyer and also saves precious galleries’ time.


Before selling online, you need to engage your potential buyer

Simply launching an online viewing room is no guarantee that you will find an audience: you have to build it. That is why engagement – both digital and face-to-face – is very important. The buyers most inclined to purchase pieces online are those that galleries already know and already have frequent and valuable contact with.

Before presenting the pieces and works of art to an audience, you need to qualify them. Art is not simply about showing a picture of a painting against a white background on a computer screen: it is a social experience. The prospective buyer must be involved in a narrative that takes him to the work and drives him to purchase. In this sense, it is important that art galleries, before dedicating themselves to online sales platforms or viewing rooms, focus on their content and marketing strategies, digital and offline, to catch the attention of their potential buyers. The tactics here are many: from unique and relevant content on the internet to the good old phone call to your most valuable collectors.


Understand what works for you

Setting up a complex online sales and digital advertising project – like that of mega-galleries – requires time, resources and great work force. It takes many months, and perhaps years even, to create and apply a sophisticated marketing framework. Content, photos, videos, community organization and social networks, interviews, marketing plan, ads: time, money and a dedicated team are needed.

That is why small and medium galleries should invest online, but within their limits and expectations. Weaving a marketing, outreach and sales project like Artsy or David Zwirner will not be feasible for everyone. This does not mean, however, that small and medium-sized galleries cannot be creative and exploit innovation. The secret is the organization: outline the goals and objectives, understand the number of hours that will be dedicated to the project, which people on your team will lead the task and then, yes, get to work!


Always think long term

If there is one thing that the present crisis teaches us, it is: be prepared. The galleries that are better equipped to face the new reality of activities in the art world are those that have been following the trend of including online initiatives in their routines for years – and not just now, when the trend has become a necessity.

Many galleries, which simply ignored the early stages of the rise of art e-commerce over recent years, are now about to miss the boat for yet another massive change in the industry. It is crucial to be aware of changes and possible trends so that galleries are not caught off guard again.

For this reason, a difficult task presents itself today to all agents in the art world: to compensate the delay of the years when they did not believe in the potential of online for their market, while they must continue to prepare – and adapt – to a world that just keeps changing.


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Caio Blanco is the digital marketing specialist at SP-Arte. With a Bachelor of Laws from USP and a Master’s Degree in Marketing from the University of Leeds, UK, he has worked for companies such as Google and Socialbakers. He also leads the relationship strategies with SP-Arte partner galleries.

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