As the millennial generation begins to overtake the baby boomers, art businesses are reorienting their commercial strategies to target a client base accustomed to digital technologies. Previous concerns that a product category so dependent on visual experience would fail to translate into online sales have diminished as statistics have proven otherwise: according to a 2019 report, 93% of HNW millennials have bought art online; and even the most old-school of art businesses are establishing a digital presence thanks to the range of platforms now available.

Without the investment required to set up a bricks-and-mortar gallery, the growth of art ecommerce is often held to have had a democratising effect on the market, paving the way for a new generation of virtual gallerists and dealers, and in many cases circumnavigating the function of a gallery entirely. Indeed, the role of a permanent physical location is increasingly under question as digital business models appear to thrive without the pressures of the property market. Moreover, through establishing independent social media and ecommerce channels, artists are able to build their own presence and connect with collectors directly, without the need for gallery representation at all.

Recent years have seen a new breed of online art marketplaces that draw together the work of thousands of artists, from emerging to established, and span a wide range of prices, all available to purchase online with the click of a mouse. Such businesses have cornered a lucrative sector of new collectors and corporate clients seeking affordable artworks for office and hospitality settings, and generally function on a high volume, low margin model.


However, as confidence in the online market has grown, ecommerce is being harnessed by art business powerhouses seeking to align themselves with the preferences and demands of a new generation of serious collectors. Blue-chip galleries are investing in online sales teams to maximise the commercial potential of their digital presence and developing virtual salesrooms as an adjunct to their physical spaces. Moreover, well-established platforms such as Artsy offer partnerships whereby galleries and dealers can sell their stock through their trusted ecommerce channels. As such, increasingly high-value artworks are being sold online, and the emphasis of online art sales is shifting from the lower end of the market to the mid- and high-level, and attracting seasoned collectors.

It’s not just galleries getting in on the game: all major international auction houses now have channels for buying and bidding for art online for both live and timed auctions, and some have adopted online-only auctions that allow buyers to bid in advance and in real time via an app. Such speed and ease of transacting is a factor held to be key in engaging with younger collectors and opens auctions up to an international audience of potential buyers unrestricted by time and location.

With new reports suggesting that the online art market is set to expand further, it is likely that major galleries and auction houses will continue to invest heavily in the digital sector and explore the potential of new technologies such as virtual reality and fractional ownership. Whilst the online sector is at present largely focussed on the mid-market, as the economic weight of millennial collectors grows, it seems inevitable that the high art market is next in line for digital revolution.


Ari He Eu
Ian Williams