Art, Technology, and The New Normal
Over the last 2 years, Online Viewing Rooms (OVRs) have exploded in the art world, transitioning from a boutique, forward-thinking sales embellishment for high-grossing galleries to an indispensable tool central to the market’s ability to thrive during a pandemic. In our capacity as Art Market Technologists, Caravan has had dozens of conversations with as many galleries concerning the costs, returns, requirements, replicability and much much more inherent to OVRs.
Now, as a post-lockdown future draws closer, galleries are opening back up for in-person visits and fairs are preparing for live events once more. Does that spell the end for OVRs and their utility for art sales? If we view the rapid growth of online art sales even prior to Covid, two things become clear:
- Digital/Online is not a sales channel conditional on external forces – it pre-existed the crisis point for which it was a perfectly suited solution, and the size of the market share amenable to buying art online will only grow. In fact, Art Basel’s recently released report, “The Art Market in 2021”, shows that online sales grew to $12.4b in 2020, over twice what it was in 2019 ($6.0bn).
- OVRs – in their variety of complexities and presentations – are currently the most elegant, curatorially comprehensive means by which online sales can be conducted from first touch to close outside of online auctions.
If you have been paying attention to the acceleration of online art sales over the past few years (Key Findings 3, 5 and 6 of Artsy’s 2021 Gallery Insights Report reinforce this conceit, and highlights new market growth – “In 2020, 73% of galleries reported that at least half the collectors they connected with online were new to their business…”), it should be no surprise that data-driven best practices have had comfortable time to emerge and reaffirm themselves. Still, the art world is notoriously slow to adapt and evolve when it comes to digital, with many ‘meatspace’ principles holding fast in the digital sales arena despite objectively weaker outcomes.
In this article, we’ll identify some of these pre-digital carry-overs and propose updates to those workflows that have shown themselves to be most effective for online art sales with our client collaborators.
*Note: These findings reflect broader industry patterns that have been confirmed in viewing rooms run by Caravan clients. While we can’t disclose confidential information, we’ll be going further into depth during our upcoming webinar “The Art of Digital: Selling High-Value Art Online” while in conversation with Kasmin’s Digital Projects Manager Chris Stach, who has administered over 25 viewing rooms in the past three years. Sign up for the March 30th webinar while slots are still open.
Let’s jump into it – here are three of the most common preconceptions we hear from our community that are based on obsolete ideas about online sales.
Listing Prices Will Reduce Interest
There is an understandable skittishness around displaying prices with many zeroes on the tag to the general public – especially to cold leads who haven’t interacted with your gallery previously. This hesitation stems from a few reasonable presumptions:
- Online buyers aren’t participating in a sales conversation prior to their first touch, so it can be difficult to convey the valuation of a piece to a new collector after their initial sticker shock (including objective factors like provenance and logistical costs to more abstract conditions like emerging scenes or insider market information).
- Artists might be accustomed to blind pricing, and will condition their sales performance on whether or not a price was revealed preliminarily or to under-qualified leads.
- Galleries often work with a built-in discount ceiling as a tool – the ‘asking price’ is rarely the sale price, but that’s a tool reserved for courting qualified leads.
These are absolutely defensible positions to take – until you look at the actual interaction data on OVRs. To put it bluntly, list your prices if you want to sell more art online – up until a point. Artsy’s Gallery Insights Report underscores this – “According to Artsy research, works with visible pricing are more than 3x more likely to sell than those without.” Caravan concurs with this research, and adds that being transparent with the value of the artwork has a huge impact on the ability to generate leads. General ecommerce principles dictate that the price is necessary information to inform a potential customer about a sale.
However, with high-valued objects listing the price becomes less important to make a sale. Most people are not in the market for high-valued objects and listing the price will serve to reduce the amount of inquiries who ultimately can’t afford the work. This is generally a good thing. Not listing the actual price also provides a means of still allowing for negotiation with potential buyers who can actually afford the work.
Is it still a bridge too far for some galleries or artists to list their pricing? Publicly listed prices might be considered too disruptive for some sellers – especially for primary market works. The value of giving the collector some indication as to what range they’re engaging with does have value. Our recommendation will be to list pricing for artworks under a certain value if you want to sell that artwork primarily online. If you are relying on traditional methods for selling the artwork, listing the price is not necessary.
For sellers not yet ready to consider making the jump, consider some alternatives:
List a range.
Even if it’s wide, the distinction between $10k and $100k is more informative than completely obscuring the information.
Be transparent with your policies.
Most consumers are familiar with prices changing. When you are referencing pricing for unique works of art, market interest has an enormous impact on the value of the work. Doing as much as possible to tell potential buyers about your pricing policy will help eliminate bad buying experiences.
Link to Previously Sold Works by the Featured Artist.
This adds an additional step for both the gallery and the collector, but providing a list of previous price points for an artist can help frame a collector’s understanding of what they’re looking at. This has the added advantage of exposing a greater catalog of art from the artist in question, potentially yielding sales activity for works not directly listed in the OVR or related to the precise inquiry.
‘Gate’ prices with tech.
There are a number of tiers on which access to OVRs can be limited. While a collector may not want to have to ‘Contact for Price’ for every single work they’re interested in, they might be more amenable to completing a short form to ‘unlock’ more details related to artworks, including price. This is a transaction where the collector volunteers actionable information to sales staff, distinguishes themselves from casual shoppers, adds meaningful content to their CRM records (if available), and provides a sense of exclusivity for more serious collectors. You could even use some custom code to unlock the information after a period of time (for example, 3-5 minutes) to give the appearance of having had an actual salesperson vet the form submission for approval.
Bottom line: listing prices online might be a departure from standard gallery practice. However, modern conditions require modern solutions, and rooms with some pricing information show empirically higher levels of sales activity.
An OVR should mimic the gallery experience, no more no less.
For a significant part of 2020 and 2021, Covid required galleries stop hosting collectors and visitors in-gallery, with digital exhibitions taking the fore. For galleries reacting to this abrupt interruption of how they conduct business, the priority was to mimic the in-gallery experience. Again, this is a regressive impulse – digital channels open more opportunities for experimentation on what collectors will respond to and be encouraged by during their ‘shopping experience’ on your gallery’s site, and shouldn’t be capped by how galleries are used to working with collectors. In many of our rooms, we’ve seen increased activity when the following embellishments are present:
- Place-in-room services (either through an AR application or comping in Photoshop)
- Additional Media, like artist commentary, short essays, documentary photography and video
- Exclusive content for qualified buyers, like access to password protected video content of early room access
- Cross-sales with standard ecommerce – links to shop items related to an exhibition or artist featured in the OVR
Nearly two years ago, Caravan wrote about XR Art (encompassing Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality), showcasing a haptic sensor project allowing blind users to ‘feel’ the contours of statue. We still find this a moving and inspiring effort to make art collection more accessible. What’s more, it shows how technology opens new ways to interact with and care about art. Online Viewing Rooms represent a basecamp on the edges of a vast, largely unmapped terrain of possibilities, all of which could potentially disrupt and/or enhance the collection experience.
Galleries attempting to make OVRs a skeumorphic representation of their physical locations are actively closing doors on rich, compelling, interactive experiences. Just as we would never argue that being physically present in a gallery lacks its own irreplaceable magic, we would similarly never argue that an OVR can supplant that experience (or its value in the sales process). However, only deploying an OVR as a ‘stop gap’ reflects a perspective that will always place the digital experience subordinate to the in-person experience. That defangs the vast potential in OVRs to do things fundamentally unachievable in a traditional gallery space. In fact, you may find yourself on better footing if you plan and develop your OVRs as a completely new service line separated from your gallery, regardless of how much foot traffic you’re able to support at any moment.
Join us for Part Two of this series, covering our third busted myth and a bonus tip for elevating OVR performance for your gallery.
And, don’t miss the opportunity to speak with a panel of experts on this topic (and more) at our upcoming webinar – register now: