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Sotheby's Joins Up With eBay to Bring Rarefied Fine Art to Digital Masses

The move signals a democratization of the uber-elite art and collectibles market, as well as growing consumer confidence in online shopping.
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Storied auctioneer Sotheby’s and e-tail leader eBay have inked a new partnership, signaling that consumer confidence in online shopping has grown to encompass big-ticket items like fine art and multimillion-dollar collectibles.

The two companies announced today that they will team to create a newly-designed marketplace within eBay enabling the site’s 145 million global users to participate in certain Sotheby’s auctions as they happen in New York.

The brand new eBay platform will specifically target art and collectibles shoppers, and Sotheby’s will serve as its anchor tenant.

Auctions will fall into 18 categories including jewelry, watches, prints, wine, photographs and 20th century design. In addition to initially streaming live auctions and allowing for real-time bidding worldwide, the partnership could eventually call for themed and time-based sales, Sotheby’s said in a press release.

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“We are joining with eBay to make our sales more accessible to the broadest possible audience around the world,” said Bruno Vinciguerra, chief operating officer of 270-year-old Sotheby’s -- heretofore known for its unthinkably lavish offer among an elite consumer base.

The effort actually marks the second collaboration between Sotheby’s and eBay, notes The New York Times. While a 2002 venture to offer auctions online folded after just a year, this latest team-up arrives on the heels of a smartphone revolution and a maturing fine arts market, Sotheby’s execs said.

And eBay, for its part, stands to gain the cache of associating itself with the Sotheby’s name as it increasingly seeks to vend high-ticket items. “We sell a lot of expensive items, including roughly 13,000 automobiles every week to mobile shoppers,” said eBay’s president of global marketplaces, Devin Wenig. “Customer trust in e-commerce has evolved.”

In the face of this evolution, Sotheby’s competitor Christie’s is eyeing an online push of its own. The company has poached execs from Gilt and Mr. Porter in order to spearhead a $50 million investment that will include more Internet-only auctions and a complete rehaul of its website scheduled for the fall, the Times reports.

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