Auctions Market News

‘The Laptop Is Going to Replace the Velvet Rope’: Invaluable CEO on Partnering With Sotheby’s

Sotheby's auctioneer Adrian Biddell at the FT & Sightsavers Seasonal Appeal Photography Auction at Getty Images Gallery, London. COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Sotheby’s auctioneer Adrian Biddell at the FT & Sightsavers Seasonal Appeal Photography Auction at Getty Images Gallery, London.VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

After five months and 113 sales, Sotheby’s and’s announced the results of their partnership with Invaluable, a company specializing in online-auction technology, reporting an almost 55 percent increase in the number of collectors bidding online, as well as a 35 increase increase in the value of successful bids, compared to an equivalent period in 2014. (Though it’s worth noting that this news comes on the tails of the release of Sotheby’s 2015 Q2 report, which showed a decline in revenue and profit compared to the same quarter in 2014.)

The first Sotheby’s-Invaluable sale occurred in London on March 15, 2015, and Invaluable’s online bidding platform has since been implemented in Sotheby’s sales in New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Doha, Zurich, Milan, and Geneva.

Invaluable, which was founded in 1989, is currently Sotheby’s main technology partner for online bidding on Sotheby’ and, and allows interested parties anywhere in the world to place bids on mobile devices, desktops, or laptops that are then communicated to the auctioneer in real time. As a result, Sotheby’s digital platform now includes private messaging and optimized video streaming with the capability to support thousands of video attendees.

Over the phone, I spoke to Invaluable’s CEO, Rob Weisberg, about the company’s position in the burgeoning field of online auction technology.

ARTnews: How many clients do you currently work with?

Weisberg: We work with about 4,000 auction houses globally.

Do you work with any of Sotheby’s direct competitors?

We work with a lot of the premier auction houses and do business with about half of the top 200 to 250 auction houses in the world. We do not work with Christie’s, however. That’s the one house I would consider Sotheby’s primary competitor.

Sotheby’s reported that since using Invaluable, their successful bid prices have been up 35 percent. Were they enthusiastic about using Invaluable’s technology at first, or did they view it as a risk worth taking?

I don’t want to put words in the mouths of the people at Sotheby’s, but they were seemingly very excited about working with invaluable. We decided to launch an exclusive partnership with eBay in October last year, and now we have eBay and Sotheby’s, two of the largest companies not only in the auction space but also in the world, selecting Invaluable as their exclusive partner. I think that’s pretty telling. Our technology platform is second to none, and we really look forward to changing the face of the auction industry with the best and brightest in the arena. Sotheby’s is definitely at the top of that list.

How do you compete with other companies interested in online auction technology, and in a more basic sense, could you explain Invaluable’s mission statement?

We’re the dominant player in the space. We are growing at a significant rate—I’ll send you our Q2 2015 performance results. [Invaluable has seen a 50-percent increase in the number of auction houses using its technology, a record for a single quarter. Some 180 new auction houses have joined since April, and clients have reported an 68-percent increase in unique bidders.] We’re seeing exponential growth here, so we don’t really have any closed competitors in this space. I’d say in terms of where we see this space going and where the industry is headed, we really believe that the iPad is going to replace the paddle, the laptop is going to eliminate the velvet rope, and that we are in the unique position of introducing a younger, tech-savvy consumer to what has been an exclusive club within the auction industry. [We’re also able to provide] access to auction houses all over the world—we run 14,000 auctions per year right now, and generate billions of dollars in online sales.

People like you and me have probably spent the greater portion of our lives connected and able to transact online and via mobile devices. You may not have the time or the inclination to read through an auction’s 200-page, color-coded paper catalogue; instead, you’d prefer a personalized communication that filters the merchandise [according to your interests] and can show you items you actually might want to buy. And these are things you can buy with the click of a button while sitting in the comfort of your own home.

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