EBay and Sotheby’s finally launch their live auction site


Today eBay is launching a live auction Sothebys page on its website. This collaboration is the next step in eBay’s live auction technology.

The auctions themselves take place in the “real” world, in a Sotheby’s store, but with real-time integration with the eBay-Sotheby’s site.

EBay and Sotheby’s first announced their partnership last summer. The collaboration is designed to give Sotheby’s greater access to a younger, digitally savvy clientele, while eBay has the opportunity to expand its high-end inventory. Where Sotheby’s and other auction houses have rare, high-value inventory, eBay has a decade of auction technology at its disposal, making its platform an easy bridge out of the heavy (and some would say obscure) live auctions.

“We’re seeing an appetite for high buy points on the site,” says Megan Ford, eBay’s director of live auctions. “We entered the bullion category at this high price and we went into the vehicle category, and every time we go up in the market, our buyers come with us,” she says.

The love child of Sotheby’s and eBay is a sleek interface that showcases upcoming auctions as well as artist interviews, articles and other content created by Sotheby’s editorial team.

It displays auction previews on a page that mimics the look of a gallery space, with artwork placed on a minimalist white background next to the artwork title, artist name, and materials. High resolution images allow bidders to zoom in for brush stroke detail. A picture of the object hanging on the wall lets them imagine what it would look like in their home.

The idea is to recreate the experience of a live auction in the digital realm.

Bidders will be able to see a continuous stream of bids as they come in and place their own bids. They will also be able to browse the auction catalog in the live auction screen.

To bring the offline auction together with its online counterpart, each online bidder is paired with a representative on the auction floor to place bids on behalf of the online customer.

Above: eBay and Sotheby’s live auction platform – Auction console

Image credit: eBay/Sotheby’s

EBay partners with live auction site Invaluable in May last year, to create a live auction platform. So far, eBay has held a mix of auctions through Swann Auction Galleries, Heritage Auctions and others, and bidders already live are proving to be loyal customers, Ford says. Since its fall launch, she says, live bidders have purchased an average of four items.

Ford also claims that eBay has no problem selling high-end items. An acetate record of Elvis singing live, for example, recently sold for $300,000. According to company figures, every day 3,500 auctions on eBay close above $5,000. But by working with Sotheby’s, which has exclusive access to high-value items, eBay hopes to increase the number of big daily sales.

Art and collectibles account for $8 billion in gross merchandise volume for the company, and this category is home to 37 million active buyers, according to eBay. Live auctions were a natural way for the company to develop this part of the market and its blossoming relationship with Sotheby’s is just the beginning.

“We believe eBay’s live auctions are a billion-plus dollar business at scale, so we’ll be investing in this business for the long term,” Ford says.

With eBay splitting from PayPal later this year, there has been a lot of pressure on the auction site to develop a post-spinoff revenue growth plan. Today’s launch is the company’s first big reveal in terms of its forward-looking strategy.

And while creating auction platforms for others is an obvious use of eBay’s technology, rather than developing something shiny and new, connecting great art to a wider audience could ultimately be a winning bid.

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