High street retailers continue to collapse whilst competing directly with online suppliers or where they've failed to offer an appealing mix of offline and online purchasing opportunities. Consumers are shopping online for many reasons - price, flexibility, convenience and availability - which is increasingly impacting on high-end purchases, from art to artifacts. And it's not just well-known household retailers that have made the move to the worldwide web as major auction houses have established the precedence for dealing online. The opinion is that a high level of service, quality and safety in purchasing can now be obtained online. Confidence amongst buyers and sellers has had a big impact on this route to market - so what does the future hold for the art world and what developments does the online market have to offer?
The number of websites that provide the opportunity to purchase art online has increased significantly over the past few years, as have its customers. World-renowned auctioneer Christie's saw an increase of 11 per cent for visitors to its website from the previous year and a large percentage of Christie's bidders transacted online. In addition, its iPhone and iPad apps were launched in 2009 and 2010, with Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr attracting fans. With these developments comes the responsibility to maintain the standards and expectations of its existing customers, whilst attracting new audiences at the same time.
Consumers of fine art and luxury goods have high expectations, so although e-commerce online is available to all, for the top end market it must be designed to appeal to the selected few. Certainly social media does help increase interest among a younger generation, but with advances in technology and readily available digital imagery, the tools to create the same luxurious atmosphere that you have in a conventional gallery, auction house, or high-end store online, are accessible. Visuals are important - colour scheme, video clips, slide shows, three dimensional product views and zoom, to name but a few - and this must function effectively. From personal experience, I would be put off from shopping on a website if I am disappointed with its layout or accessibility.
Convenience is key as consumers demand more of what they want, when they want it - this represents an irreversible trend in shopping habits and the sale of artwork is no exception. The romantic ideal of having all the time in the world to browse art in a gallery and consider investment opportunities are just not realistic anymore. Conventional galleries are constrained by physical limitations and location, limiting the range of work on view at one time and the reach it can achieve.
However, an online gallery has the advantage of showcasing all the work by the galleries' artists 24 hours a day to a global audience. Not only can you view a sculpture or an antique vase in 3D, but you can educate yourself on the artist and their previous work. Online shopping provides spending freedom without boundaries, as well as the time to consider options or purchase a piece of art at 4am. It also provides better value for both the consumer and the artist by cutting out distribution channels and providing a more cost-effective solution. The next generation of art lovers will be purchasing the majority of their pieces online, so if this is what we have to offer now, imagine what will be available in 25 years?
Social media will also play a major part in the future of online art sales, as more social platforms expand their expertise and provide the tools to interact with wider audiences. With global sales of online art in the billions, it doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon, but the challenge is to match the developments in innovation and technology with effective ways of building a global audience and a year on year growth in sales. Maintaining a good, trusted relationship with customers remains very important, and although consumers may not think that they're interacting with a sales person as such, their online experience will be what makes the difference between a browser and a buyer.