Reputation and brand building is likely to become the single most important component to success in selling art and antiques online, a market now worth $1.57bn.
That is the chief finding of The Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2014.
The report, researched by Art Tactic, tends to confirm existing trends and observations rather than contradict them, a useful indicator that many business development plans are probably on the right track.
It also cites return policies, improved logistical processes, trusted due diligence (condition reports, certificates of authenticity) and more transparency (artist reports, past prices) as key ingredients for success.
Reassuringly for traditional art market professionals, the report also states that online buying is unlikely to replace bricks-and-mortar galleries.
As well as the emergence of new younger buyers helping to expand the online marketplace, Hiscox say the report shows that "sellers' reputation is a key factor in deciding to commit to an art or collectable purchase online. In fact, reputation and brand building is likely to become the single most important component to success in this market".
The report states that the challenges for business are clear: "How can traditional galleries and auction houses transfer or translate their existing reputation to a digital environment, and how does a new art e-commerce platform build the trust that sometimes takes decades to develop in the art market?
"The trend is also clear - real world galleries and auction houses are already partnering with e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Artsy, and the-saleroom.com, enabling them to reach new clients and markets. At the same time e-commerce platforms are building their own reputation and brand through their association with their partner clients (real world galleries and auction houses)."
Key findings from the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report:
• a future generation of art buyers is likely to make their first art purchase online.
"Among the 20-30 year olds surveyed who had purchased art online, 22% had never bought from a physical gallery or auction before (versus 10% based on the overall buyer sample), signalling that online platforms play a more important role as a destination for
first-time buyers among the younger generation."
• click-and-buy is gathering steam.
Almost 40% of individuals surveyed have bought art and collectables through purely online click-and-buy platforms, say Hiscox, suggesting that online-only platforms are building brand awareness and trust with art buyers and collectors.
• browsing translates into sales.
Web traffic and time spent browsing on art-selling websites is increasingly translating into direct sales. The findings show that 55% of the frequent browsers are also online art buyers. "Average time spent per visitor will become a significant business driver for these websites in the future, and the key is to create an online environment in which people want to discover, browse, learn about and eventually buy art," advises the report.
• online buying is unlikely to replace the gallery experience.
Hiscox found that 90% of online buyers had bought from a physical gallery or auction before they bought art online and, of these, 56% still prefer the physical space, against a much smaller 10% who prefer buying online. The remaining 34% were indifferent as to which they used.
• it is less intimidating buying art online.
"The art world is often perceived as exclusive and inaccessible to new buyers, and 39% of the respondents feel that the process of buying from an online art sales platform is less intimidating than buying from a physical gallery or auction house," the report concluded.
• buyers have a strong preference for unique art works.
61% of online fine art buyers surveyed have bought one or more paintings directly online in the last 12 months. The largest share of buyers (45%) had bought in the £1000-10,000 range, with 10% having spent more than £50,000 on a single painting online.
• limited edition prints are a popular entry point for online art buyers.
55% of online buyers have purchased a print directly online in the last 12 months. A total of 40% of these buyers had bought prints below £500, 19% between £500 and £1000, 25% between £1000 and £5000 and 15% above £5000.
• repeat online buyers are rapidly gaining confidence in higher price segments.
Hiscox's findings show that 45% of repeat online buyers are willing to spend in the £5000 and above category on fine art, compared to 19% of first-time buyers. "This signals that confidence in higher price segments is likely to increase in line with the familiarity of buying art online."
• online art purchases push price tolerance levels up.
"58% of online art buyers had bought other similar value items online prior to their art purchase, indicating that having bought other goods and services online at similar price points does increase buyer confidence in the online art market," the report concluded. "However, the findings also suggest that the online art market is breaking boundaries with regards to buyers' online price confidence threshold, with 42% saying that they had never bought anything online in this price bracket before."
• ease of discovery and search drives interest in buying art online.
75% of the online art buyers surveyed said that the primary advantage of buying online was the ability to find art and collectables that they otherwise would never find in a physical space. 63% said that the convenience of bidding and buying was a key advantage.
• not seeing the physical object remains the biggest hurdle.
82% of online buyers said the most difficult aspect of buying art online was not being able to physically inspect the object. However, it looks as though this fear may be overcome by more detailed information; condition reports and certificates of authenticity are cited as greatly increasing confidence in buying art and collectables online, by 94% and 84% of buyers respectively.
• there are high buyer satisfaction levels.
65% of buyers are already extremely or very satisfied with their online art buying experience, with 27% saying they were 'moderately satisfied'. Only 8% of buyers were unhappy. High satisfaction levels suggest that the market could grow rapidly in the coming years, as technological and logistical barriers are eroded, and buyers' confidence in online buying increases.
• returns policies rank highly in establishing buyer confidence.
77% of art buyers said that a returns policy would encourage them to buy art, although an increasing 'buy-and-return' mentality would raise serious issues regarding practical aspects such as the cost of returning works of art, and could make selling art online uneconomical.