Bawden watercolour

The Temple of Concord, Audley End, a watercolour by Edward Bawden (1903-89) sold for £2850 in a timed online auction at Sworders that ended on June 4.

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A survey of more than 5000 of its bidders conducted by in May found that those who said they preferred timed sales to live auctions gave ‘predictable end time’, ‘convenience’ and ‘less pressure’ as the key reasons for their choice.

Two-thirds of respondents said they had experience of bidding in both live and timed auctions. The best time to end a timed sale, according to an accompanying report by*, is on Sunday afternoon or evening between 4pm and 8pm, because the online marketplace attracts a peak of users at 6-7pm that day.

Interestingly, about 30% of all bids in timed sales are placed after the original end time, which highlights how an auction that ends at a convenient time will achieve significant engagement.

A bid placed in the final 10 minutes of the timed auction on extends the closing time for that lot by 10 minutes (the auction house can set the time to a period of its own choosing but 10 minutes is the usual). This is to stop ‘sniping’ - a practice used by bidders on some other websites whereby they rush to place bids in the last few seconds to prevent other bidders being able to respond before the auction closes.

The report showed that 58% of hammer value comes after the original end time, illustrating how bidders continue to vie for their preferred lots until a winner emerges and no increment is left outstanding.

This level of competition is enabling timed auctions to achieve the same realised prices versus estimates as live sales. According to the report, on average timed auctions achieve 57% above low estimate and 5% above high estimate. This has been trending upwards annually since 2019 and effectively matches the same outcome for live auctions (59% and 5% respectfully).

Timed auctions also convert new registrants to bidders more effectively.

Between January 2021 and June 2022, 60% of users who were new to the auction house went on to bid in the sale whereas the same figure for live auctions was 43%.

Timed sales bring other benefits, the report added.

These include:

• Reduced costs - no need to open the premises to the public on auction day

• A shortening of the sales cycle as timed auctions can be put together quickly without the need to wait for the next quarterly live sale

• Improved search engine optimisation, as the auction house can surface content to Google more often and for longer. The report suggests the optimum period for a timed auction to run is typically 16 days, with fine art sales performing best when they are online for 20 days

• Attracting new bidders - timed auctions produce 20% more new bidders per lot compared with live auctions

These findings match the experience at the world’s two largest auction houses which between them achieved almost $1bn in hammer at timed sales last year. At Sotheby’s, such sales accounted for 57% of all auctions while at Christie’s two-thirds of all new buyers to the firm last year came via timed auctions.

* is owned by Auction Technology Group, parent company and publisher of Antiques Trade Gazette.