Consolidation in the online art market has been long expected – but slow in coming. Last month Auction Technology Group, parent company of Antiques Trade Gazette, upped the ante with its purchase of German platform lot-tissimo, founded in 2002 by Jörg Wisniewski. Initially focused on auctions in Germany and Austria, the portal now lists art and antiques auctions from across Europe.
The commercial arguments for platforms in this space to merge are compelling: the art market is increasingly global, fuelled by maturing internet platforms which by combining can share technological know-how and operating costs. But what’s in it for customers: bidders and auctioneers?
Last week the Gazette put this question to Auction Techology Group chief executive, John-Paul Savant.
ATG: Why has Auction Technology Group bought lot-tissimo?
John-Paul Savant: The attraction was lot-tissimo’s market position as the go-to platform for German, Austrian and Swiss (DACH) auctioneers. When combined with thesaleroom.com, it strengthens ATG’s position as the leading provider of auction technology services.
This merger allows us to bring more bidders to our auctioneer customers in the UK, Germany and across Europe, while giving us the scale and funding to invest more aggressively in new technology, acquisition of more bidders from around the world, and in the simplification of our live operating app.
Thesaleroom.com (TSR) has been working closely with lot-tissimo since we first partnered to launch live bidding in Germany in 2010. We’ve enjoyed working with Jörg Wisniewski enormously and a merger of the two companies has felt inevitable for a number of years.
We’re happy that Jörg and his full staff will be staying on as part of the merger, even as we invest to expand the team in Germany further.
How will the lot-tissmo acquisition help bidders as well as auctioneers – in Germany, in the UK and beyond?
The simple answer is that bidders will have even more choice as lot-tissimo will add 1.3m lots for sale each year, adding to the more than 3m lots per year already available on thesaleroom.com.
The art market is increasingly international and the union of our two companies is part of that process which breaks down barriers to trade. When the businesses are fully integrated, more German buyers will have access to lots on TSR and more TSR users will be exposed to German auction houses’ inventories.
More bidders means more competition for lots, which means higher prices achieved at auction.
“I don’t believe collectors and trade buyers will be put off by any barrier that Brexit might introduce
Won’t Brexit be an obstacle?
In the global art market buyers have become used to buying across borders. I don’t believe collectors and trade buyers will be put off by any barriers that Brexit might introduce.
Post-Brexit, buyers will go where the best lots are sold, as they always have. We’re encouraged by BAMF’s optimism on abolishing import VAT (ATG No 2331) but I don’t think it will have much bearing on our future business in Europe and beyond.
How does lot-tissimo differ to TSR?
Lot-tissimo is similar to TSR in the way it aggregates a significant percentage of auctioneers in its home region as well as more internationally-minded auction houses beyond.
This then raises the profile in online search results and gives each lot a higher chance of attracting more bidders.
Fees for the two are comparable.
German auction houses run very different models to their UK counterparts. For example, most German auctioneers will hold large quarterly sales rather than the UK model, where an auction house will hold 20-30 sales per year.
Will auctioneers have to pay extra for access to the wider pool of bidders?
While the models are distinct at present, we will remove barriers and make it attractive to all auctioneers to cross-list on both platforms.
Will you create a single e-commerce brand?
Lot-tissimo is a valuable brand in its chosen marketplaces, so it is unlikely we would consider a single brand. What we will do is integrate the two technical platforms further so that improvements will happen in both markets at the same time.
What practical differences will this acquisition make for TSR bidders? Will we see dual-language cataloguing, for example?
TSR bidders will start to see more international lots in their searches, but for the user who is determined to stay local to his or her home market, we are about to introduce geo-location search on TSR. This means that a buyer can limit their searches to a 10-, 20-, or 100-mile radius.
At a broader level, a bidder can still choose to view only items in a specific country.
As for language translations, most German auctioneers who list on TSR already catalogue in both languages. English is the world’s business language and in the art market, keywords and artists’ names are internationally recognised.
What can either partner learn from the other?
Lot-tissimo has a deep knowledge of the German market and a fantastic following in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It also has some excellent features on its site and we’ll cherry-pick the best to add to TSR.
TSR brings expertise in simplifying the onsite experience, search engine optimisation and digital marketing, all of which help generate new bidders.
How will you take advantage of the big appetite for e-commerce in Germany?
After the UK, Germany has the largest e-commerce sector in Europe. It has a long history of successful online selling and, just as in the UK, there is no reason it can’t see a booming online auction sector as well.
To date, lot-tissimo has achieved its market position with relatively little spend on marketing. So there’s a great opportunity for lot-tissimo to benefit from our investments in TSR in the UK. Our experience is that, once the site is fully optimised for Google and other search engines, the boost in bidder visits and purchases can be huge.
Will you look to expand into other countries in Europe?
Our partnership with French platform auction.fr along with lot-tissimo already gives auctioneers excellent reach across Europe. One catalogue upload gives you access to bidders in the UK, France and Germany. One operator app allows auctioneers to webcast to bidders in the UK, France and Germany.
But we’ll certainly look at expanding into other key markets such as the Low Countries and Scandinavia.
What e-commerce opportunities does the US offer?
We are already in the US. In 2017, we received millions of bids from bidders in the US and sales to bidders there increased by 28% on 2016, so we are beginning to penetrate that market more deeply.
Many British businesses have lost their shirts trying to get a toehold across the pond. But since 2013 we’ve owned BidSpotter.com, our commercial and industrial auction platform based in Seattle, so we do know where the opportunities lie in that country.