The issue of inaccessibility and antiques

I posed the question: ‘Do you feel the second-hand market is as accessible for antiques as it is for, say, second-hand clothes?’ to 100 18-35 year-olds.

74% of respondents answered that antiques feel less accessible than other second-hand retail avenues.

Despite swelling interest in antiques and vintage from a younger generation, who seek sustainable and unique pieces, it is a world which has not quite caught up with millennial buying habits. The Hiscox Report for 2019 warns against underdevelopment in technology, as development in auction houses slowed in 2018.

There are misconceptions to rectify; 40% of the 18-35 year-olds who answered the survey cited high costs as the main reason they wouldn’t consider buying antique. With the price of mahogany furniture at an unprecedented low, providing more of a bargain than modern furniture shops in many cases, it is vital for sellers to communicate more effectively to a younger generation.

Covid-19 has closed the doors of auction houses throughout the country and swathes of highly anticipated fairs have been put off until the autumn or cancelled entirely. If establishments were underestimating the power of online platforms previously, they currently have no choice but to embrace them.

Auctioneers are spending up to 12 hours on the rostrum via video-link and seeing huge numbers of online engagement and successful sale totals. The swift switch to digital by auction houses due to the UK lockdown will surely encourage them to adapt their businesses on a permanent basis once some normality returns.

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Gavin Strang, Lyon & Turnbull. Via Instagram.

Of course, there are dealers who have already seized the day when it comes to selling online. A digital headquarters reduces overhead costs and allows for a wide, flexible reach. Natasha runs The Urban Vintage Affair solely online and made the decision to market towards a younger generation, who she understands may feel alienated by the world of antiques:

“I do understand how some people, who don’t know anything about antiques in particular, will feel really intimidated going into a shop and not necessarily knowing what to look for and what to ask for.

By doing it on an online platform, you’re anonymous, and so someone can send a message or send an email asking questions and it doesn’t really matter. There’s no face-to-face contact, so you feel less intimidated asking questions that you may feel are a little stupid.”

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This is an entirely different approach to the face-to-face trading which is entrenched in antiquing tradition. The value of in-person should not be diminished, as the current situation reinforces how important human contact is. There is also concerns around doing justice to an antique object over the internet and securing a sale.

But online presence does not necessitate having a website or trading solely over the internet. The power of social media in the world of art and antiques cannot be underestimated: this has been confirmed by The Hiscox Report, which found that 75% of those surveyed use Instagram to find art to buy. As a platform driven by aesthetics and lifestyle inspiration, it really is the premier source for inspiration.

The antiques trade is multi-faceted; dealers operate from auction houses, fairs, or from a laptop in their spare room. It is comprised of many independent business owners and clearly some areas of the trade are modernising much faster than others. Freya Simms, CEO of LAPADA, says that more experienced dealers must embrace new trends:

“They are all independent, so quite entrepreneurial a lot of them- they will find ways of doing things. They’re also very aesthetically minded, so platforms like Instagram actually appeal to them and once they know how to work it, then they do really quite well on things like that. So it’s about helping them get the skill set and experience-  then they’re quite into it.”

Having beautiful stock is one thing, but reaching your audience is becoming more complex. It is possible that the circumstances brought about by a global pandemic will have a lasting effect upon how the world of art and antiques markets itself and communicates to its audience.


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