While China’s online marketplaces are perhaps most well-known for inexpensive electronics, accessories and clothing, platforms like Taobao, through its Paimai auction site, are using their selling power to auction off more lavish goods like art.
Taobao isn’t the only one, or the first, to cash in on the new trend. Other companies like China Guardian Auctions, which created the first online Chinese auction site in 2010, are also selling an array of inexpensive items and luxury commodities via the bidding process.
Larger Western auctioning companies have also began the transition to online auctioning, focusing on art sales. In 2006, Christie’s started live broadcasting their auctions and allowing online bids. By 2011, they introduced exclusive online-only auctions.
Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy told the Wall Street Journal, “The potential for growth for Christie’s [online] is exponential because of the number of active buyers and interested buyers.” He mentioned that the easy nature of such transactions make them quite appealing.
Another major auctioneer, Sotheby’s, has launched their own website called BidNow. The site functions similarly to Christie’s original model. Buyers can watch live streams online and place real-time bids.
One of the biggest challenges that non art-specific auctioning sites face is proving authenticity. For sites like Taobao, that don’t have a background in fine art sales, competing with renowned businesses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s might be challenging.
One Chinese art specialist at Christie’s commented on this issue. “The most important factor in the art market is people. Auction house specialists know who wants what, and they have stronger connections with those people.”
However, even with such concerns, the fact that consumers could save an estimated 15 percent or more on commissions by using online platforms (rather than going to traditional auctions) might just tip the odds in favor of web auctioneers.
Either way, the recent trend is showing that the fine arts market in China could expand considerably.
image credit: paimai.taobao.com