Last August the auction house announced plans to scrap buyer’s premium - the fee paid to the firm by those who buy at auction – for its online-only sales to entice new buyers.
The change took effect in September but it has now decided to partially reverse this and from this month auctioneers at the company will be able to choose whether they charge fees for lots offered at online-only auctions.
A Sotheby’s spokesperson said: "After a period of experimentation, we wanted to give our specialists more flexibility in pricing, and so the decision has been passed back to them. As of April 1st, decisions on buyer’s premium will be decided on a case by case basis and clearly messaged to our bidders."
The main reason for the change was the challenge of estate sales. In these large sales the lots will be auctioned both via live auctions for higher-value lots and through online-only sales for the lower value. The division of fees could confuse buyers and sellers.
Online-only sales are still a tiny portion of the overall turnover at the firm – at around 1% - but last year it said 45% of buyers at online-only sales were new clients. Sotheby’s hopes these buyers will eventually migrate to other auctions at the firm.
The average price of a lot sold in an online-only sale has risen to nearly $10,000, with prices often exceeding $50,000.