Christie’s released its sales figures for the first half of the year this morning. The headline number is down 27.5% lead by a drop in ultra high value works above £5m. In a bit of a surprising twist, Europe nudged ahead of the US in buyers and value to become the firm’s most leading region. This represents a dramatic drop for US sales (primarily for the diminution of the firm’s now signature themed sales in New York.)
Private sales remained basically unchanged and the firm made progress in online sales though that overall number of £19.4m represents only about 2/3 of 1% of the firm’s overall sales. For all of the talk about online sales becoming a meaningful aspect of the auction business, neither Christie’s nor Sotheby’s has been able to make that channel a meaningful business.
Having said that, Christie’s offered a tantalizing comment about the growth of “a strong, diverse global buyer base […] and the volume of lots sold for under £1 million.” This sector of the market is far more profitable for Christie’s than the lots over £5m and a greater number of buyers portends a healthier, if not as flashy, market going forward.
The auction house had some other interesting news within the overall figures which they highlighted in their release:
New buyers account for 25% of all buyers in the first half of 2016. New clients in the Americas increased by 22%, with the New York saleroom bringing in 21% of new buyers globally. Asia and EMERI also accounted for 19% and 44% of new buyers respectively. 36% more new buyers participated at the price point £1 million and £5 million.
E-commerce sales grew 96% in the period from £9.9m ($15.3m) in the same period in 2015 to £19.4m in 2016 ($28m), reflecting success of investment in online capabilities. This growth was due to an increase in the number of sales offered, with 92% sell-through rates by value and 33% of lots sold at or above the high estimate. The average value of an online lot was $8,251 (excluding Wine).
The number of clients buying through online-only sales increased 60%, with 26% (up from 16%) of new buyers choosing an online sale for their first transaction with Christie’s. Total sales acquired online (via LIVE or online only sales) has reached $100 million.