Ferramenta digital da Sotheby's (Foto: Divulgação)

The digitalisation of auction houses and galleries

Caio Blanco / Marina Dias Teixeira
30 Oct 2019, 11:20 am

Data have increasingly pointed towards one direction: the digitisation of all business sectors – including the art market. According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2019, more Millennials (born between 1980 and 1990) have bought art through digital platforms over the past year, and 79% have made more than one purchase. New buyers in the art market are also more engaged: 36% have bought art online in 2018, an increase from 2017, when the number was around 31%.

Taking into account that the process of digitalisation of the art market is inevitable, we interviewed John Peebles, Senior Vice President of Digital Marketing at Sotheby’s one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world – about the importance of digital actions in the world of visual arts.

According to Peebles, it is extremely important that galleries and auction houses are able to engage with their public wherever they may be – and digital marketing is a very effective way to engage with this qualified audience. “Online gives auction houses the opportunity to broaden their reach, which is important for consignors. With broader reach, auction houses can in turn use online capabilities to improve the experience for buyers,” says Peebles.

The expert, however, ensures that live auctions will not cease to exist. He argues that nothing quite compares to the thrill of a live bid and that online media will not be able to replace this experience. That does not mean that on and offline platforms cannot coexist: “online sales are one of a suite of tools that we use to provide the best possible customer experience,” he completes.

You can check out the full interview below.


In your opinion, what is the role of digital marketing and digital media in the art market? How can they support art sales?

John Peebles: Most companies sell one product to lots of people. You can certainly use digital media to support that, but platforms like television and radio still work well in that regard. Digital media is perfectly suited for selling many individual things to many individuals, all of whom have unique tastes. This is very much the case for our global business, which offers all manner of fine art and luxury goods to a truly international clientele. We need to be able to meet those audiences where they are, and digital media is an incredibly efficient way to introduce them to our business and works on offer.

In which ways can collectors be impacted online? From an auction perspective, how important are social media as a tool of promotion?

Online technology creates transparency, which is good for collectors. Our clients are incredibly diligent in educating themselves regarding potential purchases, and the world of information that is accessible through our online platforms is very valuable to them.

Social media is an important tool for the auction industry because it makes it feasible to get information out to people who care very quickly. In addition to the fact that we are an inherently visual business, social media makes it possible to reach both new and existing clients with very specific collecting interests – and to introduce them to new collecting categories that may be relevant to their tastes.

What are the main online actions that can be taken by galleries and auction houses in order to succeed in their sales?

Online gives auction houses the opportunity to broaden their reach, which is important for consignors. With broader reach, auction houses can in turn use online capabilities to improve the experience for buyers. Supporting more languages is one tactic. Adding tools that make it easier to manage bids on multiple items is another.

How do you see the future of the art market in the Digital Age? Do you think a time will come when we will only buy art online? What is your take on 100% online galleries and auctions?

Live auctions will always be an important part of our business – much of the experience of art is personal and tactile, and the drama of a live sale cannot be fully replicated. However, online sales are a fantastic platform for collectors, and we see this growing, especially with reputable auction houses who bring global reach, brand awareness and world class customer service to online sales.

Online sales are one of a suite of tools that we use to provide the best possible customer experience. However and wherever our clients want to transact with Sotheby’s, we will meet them there and create a seamless buying experience.

Above: Digital interface (Courtesy of Sotheby's)

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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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Marina Dias Teixeira graduated in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of the Arts London (UAL). She has worked as part of Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, Sotheby’s Brazil and SP–Arte teams. Today, she is Project Coordinator at Act., art consulting bureau based in São Paulo. In parallel, she researches decolonial theories and the production by artists of the African Diaspora in the contemporary arts circuit, with a focus on black women. Since 2020, she collaborates for Casa Vogue Brazil, with a close look on black artists and their production.

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