About the desire for the very special
BY SANDY STRASSER
Now, will ya’ give me? Sold!” Just some of the typical rants heard at the premises of Christie’s, the world’s oldest and most respected art business. Since on December 5, 1766 James Christie conducted his first auction in London, the house has expanded into no fewer than eighty different categories ranging from fine art to clocks, marine chronometers and barometers. Its price records are well documented and yet many objects become donations to both longstanding and recent clients. Among them many celebrities: Kate Moss once had her own auction valued at a million pounds. For sale: photos, paintings, sculptures, collages and a tapestry of the supermodel. CIO Ken Citron talked to us without reserve of how the company masters the fine line between tradition and digital transformation.
Mr Citron, please describe the depth of experience at Christie’s.
We are a global art business and have salerooms located in major cultural cities around the world, and a digital platform that invites an expanding network of people to participate in what we do – and to enjoy the art. Art is at the centre of everything we do here. The depth of experience and expertise at Christie’s spans time, geographies and tastes. Through our close relationships with our clients – be they collectors, art academics, institutions or art enthusiasts – we are privileged to share with them the love of art and the excitement of curation, exhibitions and sales. Expertise is vital, in whatever area you work in or role you have in the company, and as more people in more places in the world are captivated by art and seek to acquire it, our knowledge, judgment and service is ever more relevant. Our geographical spread across 46 countries, with 12 salerooms around the world, gives us a unique perspective on global taste and allows us to predict change and react quickly to this changing market.
As a global organisation you have to understand both the cultural and commercial value of art. What are your company values?
Christie’s is built on a fundamental truth: that the experience of owning beautiful and special objects is an important part of people’s personal and cultural life. Art should be valued not just for its historical or aesthetic value but for its ability to start new conversations and break down borders both in the corporate and political world. Our company values are based around passionate expertise, exceptional customer service, business judgement, integrity, teamwork and innovation. As a global organisation, we have a diverse work force that is constantly developing and growing. Yet, no matter where we work at Christie’s, our values remain the same. The people who work at Christie’s represent all these attributes and, in the end, it’s our vision and our values that make our success.
How has the way people buy art changed over the past five years?
As technology has advanced and e-commerce has become an everyday part of nearly all retail industries, interest in buying art online has escalated. Digital is becoming more and more prevalent in the art world. Our clients use an average of four devices and browse for product discovery and research for larger purchases. We’re seeing an insatiable demand for the latest content and information anywhere, anytime as buyers travel more frequently. We’re also seeing categories which may not perform as well in live auctions do exceptionally well online, most especially niche categories, because online they find the people who really love that art. The strongest response continues to be for highly curated sales, single-owner collections, recognisable luxury brands, rare-to-market property, stand-alone and noteworthy lots. As time goes on, we’re finding that buyers are willing to spend higher amounts through our online platform and that’s a matter of growing comfort with the online marketplace as a whole.
Besides your salesrooms all over the world, you also have invested a lot to build an appropriate digital platform that invites an expanding network of people to participate in. What expectations do people have who want to participate in your online auctions or sell their items?
The rise of purchasing online has definitely contributed to the comfort level of purchasing art and luxury objects online. It is just how purchases are made today. It is about comfort, accessibility, ease and availability. Against that background, our buyers also want real-time updated news and data together with a seamless online experience.
How do you transfer the real world of Christie’s into a digital one? What is particular about your customer experience?
Any potential buyer can view several very high quality photographs of the art, as well as use the browser to view parts of the piece close-up for additional detail. Clients today are used to shopping online, as well as viewing masterpieces online. We have just combined both activities. Clients can also participate in our auctions virtually through Christie’s LIVE™, giving them access to every Christie’s saleroom globally. From their computer, tablet or phone they can place bids and follow along with live sales while watching the auctioneer in real time.
What challenges are there to retain the special spirit of traditional auctions online?
Christie’s has the advantage of being the senior player in this space, with seven years of online bidding experience and multi-million dollar online transactions under our belts already. Part of what makes online sales such a perfect fit for us is that integrity and authenticity are built in to our brand. We are operating this part of our business by staying completely true to who we are and how we conduct business in the off-line world. Online auctions are now fully integrated into our company, meaning we use the same processes for our online sales that we do for our auction and private sales. We stand behind every piece we sell. We have seen it, authenticated it and placed a value on it using our knowledge and expertise. This is very unique.
In what ways are you able to offer your distinguished audience a bespoke service online?
We let clients and visitors go deeper in the areas they are most interested in. We are able to personalise a deeper relationship with the user by better understanding the client and then utilising information to better serve them digitally. This allows us to scale in ways not possible off-line and complements our brand and reputation for a truly bespoke client service, which also gives us the opportunity to offer a digital experience that is identical to the physical experience from a client service standpoint.
How many monthly clients visit your world collection through the Internet?
In the first half of 2016, the number of clients buying through online-only sales increased by 60 percent, with 26 percent of new buyers choosing an online sale for their first transaction with Christie’s. Total sales acquired online, via live- and online-only sales, have reached 100 million dollars.
How satisfactory has the development been in recent months?
Our website has experienced increases year-over-year in the number of new “My Christie’s” accounts created, e-catalogues viewed, PDF catalogues downloaded and total page views. All of these are indications of increased site engagement. Christie’s has been bold in leading with online sales, marrying infrastructure requirements to the specialist departments’ authentication and creative, curatorial input. Our online-only sales are truly global, with visitors from 167 countries. Digital sales is not just a platform for new clients – 14 percent of existing Christie’s buyers in the first half of 2016 were new to Christie’s through the online auctions channel in a previous year and a quarter of buyers bid in more than one online auction in the first half of 2016.
What other plans do you have with Christie’s in terms of online and apps?
We are constantly striving to enhance the online experience for our clients. We will continue to produce engaging content for our online platforms, inclusive of our online magazine “Christie’s Daily”, digital versions of our catalogues and our home page. Additionally, we will continue to update our apps so that our interface is best in class and brings the experience of living with art in to the hands of connoisseurs. We totally believe in the integration of the physical and digital world and the synergy created by having them interact in interesting and creative ways. We strive to create deeper, immersive experiences that utilise all digital tools including virtual reality and image recognition to ensure that the virtual and physical intersect in a seamless way.
A brief portrait of censhare
censhare is a software company with offices in Germany, France, Switzerland, the UK, the US and India. Through technological innovation it helps companies dominate the next generation of digital communication. censhare offers an integrated software solution that enables companies to combine their communication with all information. Thus optimised through all measures, it inspires audiences across digital and analogue contact points. Innovative, censhare connects people with content and processes and enables intelligent business communications. It transforms business requirements into solutions for accurate communication and enthusiastic customers, thereby enriching the entire life cycle of communication making customer journeys understandable. The result is an efficient and flexible system that transforms corporate communication into real-time interaction, customer loyalty and engagement enhances, thereby saving time and up to 40 percent in marketing costs. The world’s top companies and brands use censhare to integrate and automate their communication and to create exciting customer experiences. The customer and project portfolio includes almost all sectors and company sizes including Burda, Condé Nast, Deutsche Bank, Dyson, General Motors, Hearst UK, GoPro, Kohl’s, McCann, Migros, REWE, Swiss Re and Vitra.
Christie’s and censhare
Christie’s objectives are automation and diversification. New target groups are to be acquired with “bespoke” and private auctions and new markets tapped into using customised information materials in the most diverse languages. With censhare, Christie’s has introduced a fully-integrated system by which all bids can be centrally managed along with the corresponding media contents, languages and currencies, and communication materials can be planned on the basis of templates. In the next step, censhare enables the automated creation of new and customised offerings – such as catalogues, fact sheets, data sheets and lot cards, to name but a few.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q3 2016. Picture credit © Christie’s Images Limited 2016