FOR provincial auctioneers, online bidding has clearly been a massive boon… and even a lifeline.
While they recognise there can be a
downside - and it has been a difficult transition for many
traditional firms - they are embracing online bids and it is
allowing them to make a global impact.
In the UK, Amy Brenan from
Dorchester-based Duke's said online bidding had become an "integral
part" of their auctions, "opening up the market
"Our auctions have become more
accessible for those buyers, particularly private buyers or
overseas buyers, who are less familiar with the auction environment
and feel more at home purchasing items through this method," she
"Items which otherwise we struggled to
sell have now found online buyers and with the rising costs of fuel
the costs for the bidder of buying online can easily be absorbed,
making it a more cost-efficient and discreet way of
"The overall success has proved to us
that internet bidding is a modern way of buying at auction and this
has at times, for a traditional house of auctioneers, been
difficult to adjust to.
"But what does surprise us is the
interest we have in lower-value lots through the internet as at
this level the 3% [additonal online buyer's premium] charge is more
difficult to justify. It goes to show that clients often value
convenience very highly."
Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull
use Artfact for online bidding. Managing director Paul Roberts
said: "There is no doubt it has been a dramatic increase over, say,
three years, and that it is progressing up the market. People will
bid online to considerable sums."
He believes people wanting to be anonymous
could be a factor, along with their rising confidence in the
While pitfalls have included an increase in
'ghost bidding', not a huge problem but one evident at a lower
level, it has been a massive boost for regional auction houses.
"It has made us international in a way we
historically, for obvious reasons, couldn't be," he added. "To a
very large extent it means the mantra you've got to go to London or
New York to get very high prices is no longer the case."
Although online bids could affect the
auction atmosphere, many people were already used to it because of
telephone bids, he said.
Marie Doherty from Aston's
Auctioneers, in Dudley, said: "The number of bidders is no longer
limited by the distance people are willing to travel and we now
have the ability to sell to people living on the other side of the
"The number of international bidders
is increasing every month.
"Now customers have the ability to bid
at more than one auction at the same time, so it no longer matters
if similar auctions are scheduled on the same day. Some people are
wary of bidding at auctions without seeing the items. We try to
encourage more internet bidders by providing detailed descriptions
and photos of each lot, and also having staff available for
condition reports at all times."
East Sussex auctioneers Gorringes of
Lewes also use Artfact. Director Clifford Lansberry said: "It is
absolutely a good thing overall for auctioneers, you would struggle
to find any who wouldn't want it, but at the same time it totally
changed the face of the business.
"I think we're seeing probably more
viewings online now; it is where people find things. I think the
catalogue is, dare I say it, almost a marketing tool these days
rather then the actual tool for the buyer.
"In terms of bidding I still think the
majority of serious bidders are on the telephone, but there is a
very good following using the internet now and it
He did warn that there were pitfalls,
such as people using stolen credit cards and internet buyers not
paying after sales.
"Online use continuing to rise like
this is reliant on the technology; it is still not quite as solid
as having a phone line," he said, adding: "It's an interesting
world with online, but the atmosphere at sales is somewhat less
interesting when it's all online rather than people in the
Nick Bowkett from Stroud Auctions said
although online sales had led to a lot of extra work and resources,
the business was really seeing the benefits, encouraging vendors to
put good-quality items on sale and achieve good prices.
"It is a massive extra cost but you do
not mind doing it if you get the business," said Mr Bowkett. "Last
month was probably the best but I think we have seen a steady
"I realised as soon as we did it, it
was going to be successful, so we haven't really been surprised,
but we work to give people the confidence to bid with
He added: "We have a really good
following now. The same buyers are coming back to us from across
As with so many things, it all boils
down to trust and quality customer service, but - if you have that
- he predicts online bidding "will become the next
Neil Shuttleworth, antiques &
collectables director of Special Auction Services in Newbury, said
for their diverse auction on February 9-10 attendance online was
"very good, but also a lot of buyers came and viewed the auction
prior to bidding online, which is our perfect scenario".
He added: "On both days the saleroom
was busy and prices were strong online, on commission and in the
"For the jewellery and antiques we
have literally seen the demand for the online facilities increase
by 100% in the past year alone. This is also applicable to the
other specialist streams such as the toys, trains, sport and
Jonathan Pratt, managing director of
Bellmans, in Wisborough Green, West Sussex, said: "I was very
apprehensive about live bidding. I was thinking it could slow the
sale down too much. I wondered if it would cover the costs of the
service. And I had heard a number of scary stories over the past
year which had prevented me from taking the plunge.
"However, after my fourth sale, I
cannot see my business running without it. There are fewer unsolds
and larger sale totals. The activity online is far greater than I
anticipated. The administrative burden is less than I
"Yes, there are hiccups and we have
had some buyers default on sales, but on the whole it is of great
benefit and makes sound business sense. I decided to use live
bidding for a single-owner sale on a Saturday and the sale was 100%
sold with prices far in excess of expectation and with internet
bidding securing many of the high-value items; the 200 lots of
fashion having internet bids on almost every lot.
"Perhaps the real reason why I decided
to commit to the service was after another auction house owner
said to me 'Jonathan, you are an idiot if you don't'. You can't say
fairer than that."