Business of Design

New Buyers and Millennials Are Driving Record Online Art Sales

Artsy, Sotheby’s, and Christie's have seen a surge in digital buying since the pandemic thanks to new interest from younger clients.

The Download: Online art platform Artsy has seen a 300 percent gross merchandise value (GMV) growth in online sales during the pandemic. The company also realized a 300 percent jump in the number of facilitated online auctions compared to January 2020

Why it Matters: Covid-19 has bolstered e-commerce sales for everything from home goods to fashion to beauty, so it’s no surprise that the art market is experiencing similar gains. What’s particularly notable, however, is the surge in first-time buyers. According to Artsy’s latest survey of gallery owners, virtual exhibitions and auctions have widened the scope of potential consumers and attracted a new, younger demographic—the number of buyers between 18 and 35 doubled in 2020.

Sotheby’s reported earlier this year that in the period from January to August, although sales were down 25.3 percent from the same period in 2019, online sales tripled to $285 million, with around 30 percent of the clientele classified as new (about the same percentage of millennials). Meanwhile, between March and August, 34 percent of buyers at Christie’s online auctions were new.

In Their Own Words: “Our client base is shifting,” says Matthew Rubinger, Christie’s deputy chief marketing officer. “Where we’re going is one consistent client journey where our clients—both newer, younger clients as much as mature, experienced collectors—can engage with us on their phones, on their computers. We now know that our clients want to engage with us in all of those different ways and we need to connect the dots for them.”

Rebekah Kondrat, founder of consultancy Kondrat Retail, compared the increasing interest from younger generations to the cohort’s embrace of the stock and collectibles markets thanks to investing apps such as Robinhood and Rally. “Walking into a gallery is intimidating for most everyday consumers, so this democratization of the process is allowing for the market to expand. These are all allowing younger people to more easily own a piece or facet of luxury.”

Surface Says: What’s the art-world equivalent of stonks?

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