Mass market retailers aren’t the only ones betting on a banner online holiday sales season.
Christie’s auction house has launched its worldwide “Luxury Week” with beefed-up offerings to meet this year’s record demand. (“Week” is a loose designation this year, for the reason that one of the crucial sales have already started, and lots of will final through mid-December.)
“This year we’ve seen a 200% increase in the number of [online] sales” for November and December, says Caroline Ervin, a head of e-commerce for Christie’s jewellery branch.
Final year, Christie’s hosted just four online-only luxury sales in the same November-December stretch. Those sales carried a high estimate of approximately $9.5 million. This year, there will be 12, with a complete high estimate of just under $40 million, a 322% increase. “It’s just a response to the market,” Ervin says.
Sotheby’s, which is hosting its own live, online December luxury sales under the heading “The Festival of Wonder,” has already quadrupled its year-over-year volume of online sales; it quintupled its complete sales, which currently stand at $150.5 million, according to the auction house. Of that amount, $79.7 million has gone to online jewellery sales—nine times greater than final year—and $41.95 million, has gone to watch sales, five times as much as in 2019.
Meantime 1stDibs, the online platform for high-end furniture, art, and jewellery, has seen gross merchandise value rise year over year by 30% for the past six months. Particularly in the two months leading up to the holidays, “We’ve seen an acceleration in growth,” says David Rosenblatt, chief executive officer at 1stDibs.
It’s not just the number of online auctions that has risen. Buyers’ price thresholds have shot far beyond anyone’s expectations.
“Historically, we’ve viewed [the ceiling for] sales as $20,000,” Ervin says. “We wanted to offer a couple of higher-value lots in each and every sale to see how clients responded, and [then] it boomed.”
Before 2020, an online-only sale for a unmarried lot at Christie’s had topped $80,000; this year, 25 sold for more than $100,000. A kind of lots used to be a 28.86-carat diamond ring that sold for $2.1 million.
At 1stDibs, the gross merchandise value for sales of objects over $100,000 are up 60% year over year, says Rosenblatt. “Demand has risen for everything we sell.”
Online luxury sales had been ramping up for some time as consumers became more comfortable with buying used items online, and auction houses and other resellers explored strategies beyond the traditional high-touch mannequin of live sales.
Once the shutdown became a several-month-long reality, luxury resellers discovered, to their genuine surprise, that people were more willing to spend than ever. “Buyer behaviour has changed dramatically, overnight,” says Rosenblatt. “We’ve seen 10 years of digital adoption during the last 10 months.”
That’s largely because these companies have refined their understanding of what can and will sell without an in-person viewing.
“A large number of it is in point of fact click, then buy,” says Ervin. “A part of that’s what we select to put online. We won’t put something that’s high value and needs numerous research. We generally tend to offer signed pieces, so you realize the brand name and might realize the design already.”
At Christie’s, wealthy buyers can tender online for an Hermès “Himalaya” crocodile Birkin bag made with white gold and diamond hardware, estimated from $200,000 to $250,000, and an 18 karat pink-gold Patek Philippe chronograph watch manufactured in 1950, which has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
At Sotheby’s, someone with a holiday budget of approximately $250,000 can tender in its online jewellery sale on a diamond ring with a 5-carat, cushion-cut diamond flanked by .8 carats of heart-shaped diamonds on a platinum band; the ring carries an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
Must someone lose out on the “Himalaya” Birkin at Christie’s, they may be able to take a crack at a rather smaller version of the bag—this one from 2010—being offered at Sotheby’s for $260,000 to $300,000 in a sale that will near a day later.
1stDibs goes even higher.
A wealthy person in search of a pick-me-up might find encouragement in a $2.35 million, 35.31 carat, yellow diamond necklace surrounded by a further 47 carats of multishape diamonds. They may be able to have it shipped express for an extra $100, according to the site.
For a holiday surprise, the shopper could buy a $365,000 Victorian fire screen filled with stuffed and mounted hummingbirds.
All this, specialists say, is an attempt by retailers to meet a demonstrated demand for high-value e-commerce.
“This fall, leading up to these sales, we were having this kind of high sell-through rate that we’ve increased the number of lots offered,” says Ervin. “Someone is increasing their buying for certain, because we’re offering more lots, and we’re still selling those lots.”
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)
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