Online art sales double in value

Date: 18 Mar 2021


Online art sales reached a record high of $12.4 billion, doubling in value from 2019 with a record share of 25% of the market’s value, according to the fifth Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report.

The report, which integrates a survey of 2,569 high-net-worth (HNW) collectors, across ten markets, as well as data from UBS Evidence Lab, found that for the first time the share of e-commerce in the art market has exceeded that of general retail.

Despite the rise in online sales, the overall market contracted. The value of globalart market sales eased 22%year on year to$50.1 billionand the number of transactions declined to31.4million.

The report also found that:

  • Increased interest: 66% of the collectors surveyed felt the pandemic had increased their interest in collecting, 32% reported it had significantly done so. HNW collectors will be active in the market in 2021, with the majority (57%) planning to purchase more works for their collections.
  • Instagram as a key channel: Social media continued to be a key channel used by the art market and roughly one third of collectors purchased art using Instagram in 2020.
  • Gender: Female collectors spent more than men in 2020, with their median expenditure rising by 13% year-on-year and even higher in the US, UK, France and Mainland China.
  • Generational trend: Millennial HNW collectors were the highest spenders in 2020, with 30% having spent over $1 million (versus 17% of Boomers).
  • Art fairs: Despite the high number of events being cancelled, 41% of collectors reported that they made a purchase at an art fair in 2020, while 45% reported making one through an art fair’s online viewing room (OVR).
  • In-person preference: Around 90% of all HNW collectors surveyed had visited a gallery or art fair OVR during the year, however, the majority (66%) still preferred to attend a physical exhibition at a gallery or an art fair to view works for sale.

Christl Novakovic, CEO UBS Europe SE, Head Wealth Management Europe and Chair of the UBS Art Board said: “The year 2020 marked a turning point for digital innovation in the art market. The shift to online platforms enabled collecting, increased transparency, and bolstered the market even when national lockdowns forced gallery, live auction, and museum closures. Collectors remained passionately engaged during the hardest moments and devoted to collecting with purpose and a long-term plan.”

Clare McAndrew, Founder, Arts Economics said: “The fall in sales was inevitable. But the crisis also provided the impetus for change and restructuring, the most fundamental shift being the rollout of digital strategies and online sales, which had lagged behind other industries up to now. The art trade showed incredible resilience in how it adapted to some of the new realities, and although businesses are still figuring out how to balance the new more online-based market with the shared experience and excitement of offline sales and events, few see these shifts as transient.”

Noah Horowitz, Director Americas, Art Basel said: “While the market contracted sharply across all sectors in 2020, with declines in both value and volume of sales for dealers and auction houses alike, the resilient interest in collecting throughout it all was profound, as the year also marked a transformative period of innovation, restructuring, and new consumer behaviors, especially online‚Äîall of which have the potential to significantly redefine the shape of the art business in the coming period.”

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