Sotheby’s sales fall despite online boost 

Sotheby’s has welcomed a year of “resilience”, despite year-to-date sales only reaching $2.5bn (£1.92bn), down from $3.3bn (£2.53bn) the year prior.

In place of half-year results, the auction house released results from 1 January to 31 July in order to accommodate rescheduled spring sales.

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Despite the overall decline in sales, efforts to increase Sothepby’s online sale programme saw online sales increase by 540% in the first seven months of 2020, with auctions exceeding $285m (£219m), more than three times higher than the online sales achieved in 2019.

In total, the group held over 180 online auctions across 44 collecting categories, with sales “continuing to close daily”.

Meanwhile, private sales reached $575m (£442m) in the period, boosted by the launch of its new online viewing platform, Sotheby’s gallery network and East Hampton Gallery. Its overall volume of private sales transactions increased by 10% in the year-to-date. 

In addition, live summer auctions in June and July collectively achieved $1.2bn (£922m). 

Sotheby’s said that in total, it has conducted more than 250 live and online sales to-date in 2020 .

More than 30% of all bidders and buyers in the period had never transacted with Sotheby’s before, and more than 30% of all bidders and buyers were under 40.

The group said that auctions attracted bidders from over 100 countries, with nearly 20% of new bidders and buyers in particular coming from across Asia.

A “key driver” of Sotheby’s success in the first part of 2020 was Asia, it added, noting that in the first seven months of the year, sales in Asia totaled nearly $450m. In addition, its rescheduled April sale series in Hong Kong, which was held in July, was the seventh consecutive series to exceed $400m (£346m).

Online buyers in both live and online auctions “dramatically increased their appetite to transact at high levels”. The auction house welcomed an average lot value in online sales of just over $20,000 (£15,368, more than double the average in 2019.

CEO Charles Stewart said: “We are proud to conclude the first seven months of the year with $2.5 billion in sales, and I would like to thank our clients and employees for their extraordinary support during the pandemic. 

“Our success was driven by strong customer demand for art and luxury, Sotheby’s unique specialist expertise and trusted client relationships around the world, and our remarkable adaptations and innovations to the current environment.” 

He added: “The company is in a strong financial position as we head into the second half of the year and, based on the demand we witnessed in New York, Hong Kong and London over the past month, it promises to be an exciting fall.

“Our team successfully took the circumstances of the past several months and turned them into opportunities, which advanced numerous initiatives that will likely change our business forever. Innovation is underway in every corner of the company: from creative sale formats that maximize flexibility for our clients, to the deployment of new digital tools that allow more people to engage with us than ever, to the launch of multiple buy-now initiatives.”

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