How can art be sold online? The ART+TECH REPORT

Jeremy Bailey, Leaning Screen #2, Video, 00:36 min, 2021

In 2020, the art market had no choice but to digitize. This raised fundamental questions: How can art be sold digitally? What are the advantages of different online sales formats? How is today’s online behaviour changing the art market?

In its Collectors Edition, the ART+TECH Report has set out to answer these questions from a buyer’s perspective and asked 380 international art collectors about their personal experiences when buying art online in 2020 and how they would like to buy art online in the future. Johann König speaks with the team behind the ART+TECH Report about their key findings.

Johann König: Whats your background? How did you come to deal with the topic of online sales?

Anne Schwanz: The ART+TECH Report is an independent initiative that we founded in May 2020. There are four of us, Kerstin Gold, Kristina Leipold, Johanna Neuschäffer, and myself. We have been working in different functions in the art market for a couple of years. We share a strong interest in future-oriented scenarios and have been exchanging views on current developments in the art ecosystem for some time.

With the start of the lockdown last year, we intensified our conversations and developed the concrete intention to shed light on the influence of digitization on the art market. There is still a lot of potential for development in this field.

Kerstin Gold: As we all know, the art market had no choice but to go digital in 2020. This raised fundamental questions for the various actors over night: how can art be sold digitally? Who’s buying what art online? Are Online Viewing Rooms the future of the art market? Or is it Instagram? What are the advantages of different online sales formats? Various studies had examined these questions from the perspective of galleries, fairs, and auction houses. However, the perspective of buyers and collectors had received far less attention. How is today’s online buying behavior changing the art market? And even more importantly, how will collectors want to buy art online in the future? 

JK: During the Corona pandemic and the lockdowns, the art world seemed to wait for art fairs to take place again. There seemed to be a sense that after the pandemic everyone could go back to the old normal. Ultimately, what do you think caused the art world in parts to move forward faster and look for digital solutions?

Johanna Neuschäffer: In the beginning of the lockdown a lot of companies didn’t realize that the pandemic would have a big impact on the digital mindset. The pandemic has been a catalyst for integrating digital strategies within the art market. Even the rather conservative and intransparent art market was forced to try out digital tools since the online presentation of artists and their artworks was the only way to stay visible.

With the ART+TECH Report I COLLECTORS EDITION, our aim was to find out how collectors behave in terms of online sales given the tools provided by galleries.

JK: What was it that was lacking in the existing system that made you think the ART+TECH Report is much needed?

KG: We genuinely believe that the perspective of collectors as buyers and online users is providing important insights and design recommendations for sellers with regard to their digital future on the art market. Accordingly, we made the deliberate decision to focus less on IF art is bought online and more on HOW it is bought. Hence, in its Collectors Edition, the ART+TECH Report asked over 380 international art collectors the following two questions:

  • what were your experiences buying art online in 2020?
  • how would you like to buy art online in the future? 

Our findings came at the right time. They are relevant for anyone who is interested in future-proofing their business. By making this report available to interested parties, we wanted to establish an independent, valid, and visionary basis for promoting (much needed) awareness and affinity for the digital in the art world. 

JK: What are your key findings?

AS: In total, we identified 12 key findings, which from our point of view address burning questions about the online behavior of collectors. To pick just two results that are particularly revealing and exciting, under the heading BUYING BLIND we found that more than 3/4 of those who bought art online had not seen the work physically beforehand. And under the heading DIGITAL AND PERSONAL! we highlighted the fact that 2/3 of users of online sales formats want personal communication in real time – which is perhaps not surprising, but nonetheless helpful to know.

Kristina Leipold: While on our website you will find nine key results, you can explore all of our findings in detail in our report, which is available for free as a downloadable PDF.

For example ON-OFF-ONLINE shows that 40% of purchases of digital art combined online and offline touchpoints. Accordingly, the choice between online and offline seems to be less and less an either-or decision. The report also includes a chapter comparing various online sales formats illustrating which formats art buyers preferred for different activities. Did you know that OVRs were visited most often but hardly worked as sales tools? Online shops and mailings, by contrast, were used to a similar extent as a source of information and a channel to buy art.

JK: Are their differences between the US, Asia, and Central Europe with regard to the digital first (marketing) approach?

KL: In general, the US and Asia appear to be less risk averse and more open to digital innovation. They tend to adopt new technologies and digital tools faster and seem to accept digital marketing communications. 

Although we approached art collectors world-wide, our focus was on Europe and the German-speaking countries. Hence, 74 % of all participants come from Germany. Our report shows that buying art online has become common sense in Continental Europe.

JK: As they enter the world of e-commerce, what challenges face galleries and other players on the art market?

JN: One of the first challenges is that they have to adapt their mindset to the behavior of digital consumers. What standards exist in e-commerce? And how can they be adapted to the specific demands of the art market? For example, 60% of the respondents in the ART+TECH Report said that when they make online purchases, security (insurance, buyer protection, data protection) is important to them. While this poses a mostly technical challenge, almost 50% of the respondents also expect the ability to return items, and 51% count on individualized transport options. Most importantly, 69% of the respondents want assurances about the condition and authenticity of the work when they purchase it to online.

An altogether different challenge for galleries is to present content online in a manner that fits their style and the style of their artists. This is especially important since the products sold by galleries are unique works of art or experiences. I feel that eventually, this is something that galleries, including us, will adapt to naturally. 

JK: What has been the feedback so far? Have galleries become more aware of the need to build online marketplaces thanks to your findings?

AS: We launched our report in April 2020. And just as we were supported by our partners, various patrons, and collectors’ circles when we sent out the survey, we got great feedback about the results and our key findings in various talks and in discussions with customers and members of these circles.

We also got feedback from gallery colleagues. After they had looked at the report, they said that the results provide them with a good foundation for future decisions regarding their digital concepts. As new marketplaces are very interesting in many ways, we are also very happy about the perception in the wider art industry. Especially younger companies who react to changes in the industry quickly try out new entrepreneurial concepts in the art market.

JK: What are the most important factors for a successful connection between online and offline sales in the future?

KG: Nowadays, consumers no longer distinguish sharply between online and offline and behave instead in a hybrid manner. As mentioned earlier, our report clearly shows that 40% of all digital art purchases combined online and offline touchpoints. Customers might first look to social networks for inspiration, then research prices online, receive answers in real time, and order products on a smartphone with a QR code. Later, they may pick up their purchases on site or perhaps exchange them again. Collectors expect a variety of flexible contact and purchasing options online and offline; they want to select the most appropriate channel according to their situation. As a seller, you hence need to make sure that your offer can both be found online and offline and be purchased either way.

I think that both the greatest potential and the greatest challenge will be to find meaningful ways to integrate personal communication into the digital buying process. Our study has shown that this communication should ideally take place IRT (in real time) but not necessarily IRL (in real life). 

JK: Why is the shift towards digital marketing and sales happening fairly late in the art market?

KL: Traditionally, the art market has been characterized by a high degree of intransparency, which is a quality that has often been intentionally cultivated. The art market is unique in that it is almost always about trading unique pieces in individual sales transactions, and this makes regulation difficult and prices volatile. Moreover, personal relationships (between the artist and the gallery owner, the gallery owner and the collector, etc.) play an important role in the art market. 

Digitization eliminates barriers and democratizes access to a certain extent. It gives artists, galleries, and other actors on the art market access to collectors worldwide, and vice versa. It also enables collectors to gather information and compare prices internationally. This creates new opportunities but also challenges for the market and its players. Art is not a mass-produced article, and it requires its own rules for there to be a shift towards digital trade. Ultimately, the decisive factor will most certainly be the general mindset. Will the market accept this shift with all its consequences? In particular, will it be prepared to respond to customer requests, that is, art collectors?

This is where our report aims to make a contribution. We show how art collectors want to buy art online, and how they envision the market to operate in the future.

JK: What are your predictions for the future with regard to art and tech?

All: We believe the connection between art and tech is no longer in question. Artistic production, a digital mindset, and economic behavior in the art sector have already been deeply impacted by technological progress. The art industry will increasingly lose its skepticism towards new technologies, and digital standards will become more self-evident. New technologies will be adapted more quickly. They will be tailored to the specific demands of the art market, also by new players entering the scene.

The big question will most likely be to what extent the opening of and transparency in the art world will fundamentally change the traditions and habits in the industry. This question relates to  all aspects of the art world, from artistic production to exhibition practices and gallery models. It is no longer a question of "if" the art world will have to change, but rather of how it will do so.

From left to right: Kristina Leipold, Kerstin Gold, Anne Schwanz, Johanna Neuschäffer Photo: Luke Marshall Johnson

BIOs

Kerstin Gold
Kerstin Gold is a Berlin-based independent strategy consultant for the art ecosystem. She advises commercial galleries, museums, foundations, start-ups, and market entrepreneurs on digital transformation and business design. Kerstin Gold is co-founder of Artpreneur.io, a think tank at the intersection of art+tech+business and co-founder of the research initiative ART+TECH Report 2020.

Kristina Leipold
Kristina Leipold works as Commercial Director for the Berlin art institution and platform Light Art Space (LAS). As a lecturer and consultant for the creative industries, her focus is on cultural management and digital media. She started Artpreneur.io together with Kerstin Gold and is co-founder of the research initiative ART+TECH Report 2020.

Johanna Neuschäffer & Anne Schwanz
Johanna Neuschäffer and Anne Schwanz founded OFFICE IMPART gallery. They see themselves as co-thinkers of an art market that is changing due to digitalization. This includes observing and analyzing the market and developing new mediation formats such as the talk festival Good To Talk or the gallery platform BerlinViews. They co-founded the research initiative ART+TECH Report 2020.

CREDITS

Jeremy Bailey, LEANING SCREEN #2, 2021, video, 00:36 min 
From left to right: Kristina Leipold, Kerstin Gold, Anne Schwanz, Johanna Neuschäffer
Photo: Luke Marshall Johnson

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