eBay and Sotheby’s strike auction deal

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Some weeks ago it was announced that the grand old dame of British auctioneering Sotheby’s had struck a deal with eBay to enable joint enterprises.

In the first instance, it seems, that Sotheby’s and eBay will collaborate to increase the online bids on the sales from the ancient auction house. But, if I am very honest, having read quite a number of articles about the deal, I am not entirely sure what the nature of the collaboration is. And I guess that’s why I haven’t written anything about it until now.

It’s not very exciting, it’s not very clear and it’s probably quite peripheral to anyone trading online as a business.

To garner some outline, you might find this article in the Guardian useful and this from the BBC too.

The deal might, however, say two important things about eBay.

Firstly, they are clearly becoming much more keen on tailored and specialist buying experiences. It has long been true that the Marketplace alone is not eBay’s only future or platform.

They are increasingly dabbling with specialist experiences. That’s no bad thing. This Sotheby’s deal marks another step in that direction. I can only wryly think back to my earliest associations with eBay in 1999 when people from Sotheby’s I knew were utterly contemptuous of both eBay and the internet in general as a sales medium.

Secondly, eBay people don’t seem to remember that they tried something like this before. Back in 1999, eBay acquired Butterfields, and later let it go in 2002. The idea was similar but I am willing to accept that the technology makes this a different deal.

It is perhaps testament to the success of eBay, and indeed the web, that Sotheby’s is now doing business with the formerly untouchable upstart. But I struggle to see the immediate synergies in the deal. Maybe we will find out more with time.

4 Responses

  1. at a guess the ‘marketplaces’ realise that their best years are now past – and there’s an urgent need for alternative sources of income

  2. I don’t see the connection unless someone who is utterly clueless lists something like a Picasso or Van Gogh on eBay for a 99p start and then eBay, recognising that the seller is a complete fool, advise them that it should instead be entered into a major fine art sale at Sotheby’s – and presumably then charge a FVF on the result.

    Not likely! 🙂

  3. Just wait for the Chinese sellers to pile in with 99p ‘genuine’ Van Gogh masterpieces.

    Free postage, of course!

  4. There was a previous collaboration between ebay and Sotheby’s in 2002/3 which I took part in as a “Sotheby’s Associate Seller”. Originally Sotheby’s had their own online auctions on sothebys.com with strictly vetted sellers (auctioning their own stock from their own premises and just using sothebys.com as a platform) but they couldn’t make it pay so they closed down auctions on their own site and hooked up with ebay. One of the main reasons it didn’t work out was that a 15% premium was automatically added to the winning bid (replicating a bricks and mortar auction house) which went down pretty badly with ebay buyers. From memory I don’t think it lasted more than a year. This new venture seems to differ in that sotheby’s own NY sales are to be live-streamed on ebay.


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