Just before the end of the year, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have released preliminary end of year totals, showing the impact of COVID-19, but a better than expected year on the whole. 2020 has been a difficult year, but both of the major auction houses did their best to adapt and for the first year in recent history, Sotheby’s overtook Christie’s in total sales.
The pandemic led to a suspension in live auctions that lasted the majority of the year. Without foot traffic, auction houses had to adapt, beefing up their online presence and turning to streamlining to offer better buying options.
Since both companies are now private, it isn’t required that their profits be made public, so their true margins aren’t known. However, according to recent reports, Sotheby’s sales have yielded $5 billion (£3.7 billion), a 16 percent decrease in sales from 2019, when the auction house brought in $5.8 billion. There are still several auctions scheduled before 2020 wraps up, though, so the auction house anticipates closing that gap some.
In total auction sales, Sotheby’s saw a significant drop with only $3.7 billion (£2. billion), a 27 percent decrease overall from 2019. Of total auction sales, 15 percent was brought in by online auctions, which eventually became the auction house’s main auction avenue. More than 70 percent of Sotheby’s auctions were held online this year – as opposed to just 30 percent in 2019 – meaning that 80 percent of all bids were made online.
Despite a less than stellar auction sales performance, the auction house’s year was made better by an increase in private sales. More than doubling their 2019 private sales totals, this year’s saw more than $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion) to bring overall totals to $5 billion. Also, for the fifth year running, Sotheby’s led the market in Asia with $932 million (£703 million) in sales alone.
Christie’s, on the other hand, is reporting earnings of $4.4 billion (£3.4 billion) for 2020, a quarter less than their earnings last year. Obviously citing pandemic circumstances for lack of supply and loss of revenue, the auction house reported that demand remained strong having resulted in a sale-through rate of 81 percent.
In light of the pandemic, Christie’s saw a 262 percent increase in online-sales resulting in £311 million (243 million) or 10 percent of overall sales. Like Sotheby’s, private sales were on the rise with a 57 percent increase over 2019. As for clientele makeup, new buyers represented 36 percent and of the online sales, 32 percent were between the ages of 23 and 38. Asia, Americas, and EMEA markets were fairly evenly split with 34 percent, 33 percent, and 33 percent of overall sales, respectively.