‘Trust issues’ and the online platform

The news in the trade today is all about 1st dibs’ raising its commission by 50% on sales under $10,000- which threshold, I’d warrant, probably constitutes the bulk of its sales activity. We’ve found out about this commission increase as it was trumpeted by another platform who, it was proud to say, had maintained its commission at a much, much lower rate. Frankly, given the amount of outside capital invested in 1st dibs, one has to assume that at some point a payday is expected, and with this new large increase in commission, one would further assume that that payday for its investors has so far been elusive.

Interestingly, the New York Times had reported in early May about the failure, so far, of e-commerce to garner much more than a smattering of art market sales. Even so, Christie’s claims the only segment of its business that’s grown has been its online activity. Perhaps it has, or perhaps it is only a claim functioning as a justification for the shedding of 250 staff positions and the closure of its South Kensington sale room.

What’s also cited is the opinion of Robert Read, head of art and private clients at fine art insurer Hiscox that the trade online still has to deal with, as he put it, ‘trust issues’. No question. As an erstwhile client of ours has it, if you don’t know your jewels, know your jeweler. For us, online or bricks and mortar, this business is and always has been one of relationships built on trust in addition to quality of stock. What might be a surprise to some, these relationships transcend all sales vehicles, including those online. For ourselves, it has in the past and is still currently a rarity to make a spot sale- a series of sales as a follow-on from the first is the nearly invariable result. And a series of sales, in anyone’s language, would certainly constitute a relationship.

But, then, this business is one of high touch, a facet of which is reassurance, either actual or virtual, but if an online sales platform seeks to become an intermediary, then the high touch nature of this business is at best occluded with the result being lost sales- for the dealer and the platform. One of the other claims about 1st dibs, for instance, is that it has increasingly sought to come between the dealer and the ultimate buyer. Indeed, one would be at pains to actually find dealer name and contact information when searching for an item, and the reason for this is of course clear- if it is a 1st dibs handled sale, the commission due the sales platform is higher.


With all that, we nevertheless maintain a store front on the sales platform RubyLUX  and no question, Chappell & McCullar strongly maintains its individual identity, as do all the other participating dealers. One other aspect that is likewise a strong feature is the link between RubyLUX and Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art (CINOA). As the preeminent accrediting body in the art and antiques trade, the CINOA stamp is a further assurance of quality from a member dealer. Accreditation means very much to a collector, and it is overwhelmingly from the ranks of collectors that relationships with dealers are formed- and ‘trust issues’ are bridged.

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