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Myth #3: People Need to See Art In Person to Buy It

by Jason Horejs on 12/29/2017 10:12:54 AM

This post is by Jason Horejs, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Jason Horejs and his wife, Carrie, own Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ., which they founded in 2001. Jason also publishes, a resource for artists interested in creating and strengthening relationships with galleries, as well as those looking to sharpen their own selling skills.






Myths and Misconceptions of the Art World 

Myth #3 - People Need to See Art In Person to Buy It


The art business myth I’m going to tackle today is that art buyers are unlikely to buy online because art needs to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Many artists and gallerists cling to this idea in a mixture of frustration and hope. Frustration because selling art online has proven more difficult than anticipated, and hope because if it’s a general truism that artwork doesn’t sell online, we don’t have to worry that we’re doing something wrong with our websites or feel guilty about not doing more.

For gallerists there is an added dimension. If art were to sell easily online, it would make galleries less necessary.

Whenever discussing online art sales, there tends to be a bit of surprise when I report that my gallery makes quite a few sales online every month, and that, counter to conventional wisdom, we have made many large sales online.

As the internet has matured, I’ve learned that artwork of all shapes and sizes can and does sell online. Though we still see a majority of our sales in our bricks and mortar gallery, internet sales continue to grow year after year, and have become a critical piece of our success.

The challenge when talking about online sales is that there are actually several distinctly different ways that the internet is involved in art sales. We need to distinguish between these different types of sales in order to determine whether the myth is valid.

Different Kinds of Online Sales

Internet Assisted Sale

The most common type of sale involving the internet for my gallery is the one in which the client has been to the gallery and has seen the artwork in person, and then returns home and visits our website to view the work again as part of the decision making process. In many cases, I or my staff will email the client an image of the piece that was of interest.

This kind of internet/real-world sale is very common. I would estimate that the internet plays some role in at least 70% of all of our sales.

In these sales, the client feels very comfortable viewing the work online because he or she has already seen the art in person and so has a good sense of how closely the imagery seen online matches the real thing.

Artist Follower Sale Over the Internet

A similar kind of online sale occurs when a buyer is familiar with a particular artist’s work and stays up to date through the artist’s or gallery’s website. When a new, interesting artwork becomes available, the client might learn about it through the site or via an email newsletter.

Again, the client is comfortable with purchasing the work because she is already familiar with the quality of the artist’s work and knows what to expect in that regard even if she hasn’t seen the new piece in person.

We have many collectors who buy art site-unseen this way. I wouldn’t think of this sale as a purely internet-based transaction because the buyer has still likely physically been in my gallery or encountered the artist’s work in person. The internet just facilitated the discovery of new work.

Gallery Collector Sale Over the Internet

We also make many online sales to buyers who have visited the gallery in the past, but haven’t seen the work of a new artist that we are featuring. They might see the new work on our homepage, or on our artist’s page, or in an e-newsletter.

Though they don’t know exactly what to expect in terms of the particular artist’s work, they know and trust us as a gallery, and have a strong sense of the quality of the other work we carry in the gallery. Our gallery lends new artists credibility in the eyes of these collectors.


Internet Sale to an Unknown Buyer

The final kind of online sale we’ll consider is what I consider to be a “pure” internet sale - a sale that is made completely online to a buyer who discovered the art website through a search or other website. This buyer was unaware of either the gallery or the artist before the purchase.

This kind of sale is one of the most rare, and one of the most intriguing. In the early days of the internet, I suspect we all hoped that this kind of sale would happen regularly, and that, as a result, we’d all become rich!

The reality is that there are a number of factors that suppress this kind of sale from occurring regularly. First, there is a lot of noise on the internet. With hundreds of thousands of artists online (millions?), the odds of being randomly discovered by an interested, qualified buyer are long. Even if a potential buyer does stumble across your site somehow, they have to feel confident enough in you and your work to make a large financial transaction in order to purchase artwork they haven’t seen in person.

There are a lot of obstacles to overcome to get to a sale, and, consequently, these sales are very rare. Thus, the myth, that artwork won’t sell online.

There’s only one problem, we have made many such sales over the years, and I know of a number of artists who have as well.

When I tell artists that we have sold art sight-unseen online, their first reaction is: “sure, but it was for lower priced work, wasn’t it?”

While it is true that it’s easier to make small sales online to unknown buyers, we have made a number of significant art sales online, including a number in the $10,000+ price range. As art collectors become more and more comfortable with buying goods online, it’s inevitable that they will likewise become more comfortable buying art online.

While it is likely the pure internet sale will remain a minority of online art sales, the four types of sales I have listed here add up to a significant opportunity for boosting sales. Any artist or gallery owner who is neglecting online sales opportunities does so to their own disadvantage.

Optimizing for Online Sales

In order to take advantage of online art sales opportunities, keep the following points in mind.

  1. Your site should present your work in a professional way. It’s important for your website to look modern and clean, and for it to be easy to navigate.

  2. Your site should be up to date. It’s critical that you be able to upload your own images so that you can always keep your site current.

  3. You need traffic! It’s important to drive as much traffic as you can to your site. You should promote your website to contacts you make at shows or other events. You should have an email newsletter. You should be active on social media. Getting traffic takes work and time, but it is worth the effort.

  4. You should have an online purchase mechanism, such as a shopping cart, or a very easy way for potential buyers to get in contact with you.

  5. Showing in galleries will boost your online visibility and traffic to your website. Just be sure that if clients are discovering your website after visiting a gallery site, that the gallery is getting credit and commissions on any sales that are made.

The internet offers unparalleled opportunities for artists and galleries to increase their exposure and sales, and we are still in the very early days of online marketing. I’m grateful for the sales we make online, and I’m excited about the prospects of growth for internet sales.

Have You Sold Artwork Through Your Website?

Has the internet become an important part of your art business? Have you sold artwork sight-unseen to collectors? Share your experiences selling online in the comments below.




Editor's Note:

What a better way to kick off your art career in 2018, than with a new FASO Artist Website to display your talent! And FASO is the easiest way to build and maintain a gorgeous website, we also include amazing marketing tools that automate many common marketing tasks for you. To sign up for a free, no obligation 30 day trial, click here.


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Related Posts:

The Three Pillars of a Great Art Gallery

Myth #2: Art Sells Itself

Myth #1: Art Doesn’t Sell Anymore

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art collectors | art gallery tips | art marketing | exposure tips | FineArtViews | Jason Horejs | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online | social networking | websites for artists 

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Mark Brockman
1 through 3, there was a personal to person contact before buying on line. I have sold a few works by to the unknown buyer, have sold a few works where the person saw my work via online but then came to my studio to buy. Mostly I have sold my work via personal, non online, contact.

Shipping can be problematic. To assure safe shipping can be costly. Plus I give the buyer a few days to be sure they want the work if they bought it strictly online, they pay return shipping. Pixel images are nothing like the real thing.

I too am concerned about the net neutrality issue. Maybe you or Clint or someone can do an article on that. It may or may not be an issue for all of us.

I have been with FASO for 10 years now and have never sold a painting online but have used my web site to maintain a professional presence. I have sold almost 300 works in 10 years utilizing local art association events, exhibits, contests, open studios and tent shows. My collectors frequently visit the site to view new work and locate my next event.

Jan Oxendale
I have sold a few small paintgings from DPW. None from my FASO website. I have found it hard to find the time to upkeep the website. I think it would help, as well as exhibiting more and doing shows.

Walter Paul Bebirian
I have sold plenty of art online from a POD site - where they handled order taking - answering questions - shipping - collecting money - accepting returns if there were complaints (this never happened as far as I understand- and paying me -

then they were bought once and then again and I was taking up too much space on their servers for the third owners so they took my work down and now I am putting images up on a different site -same basic system - many more products available with each image on it - and a much clearer system to navigate through -

and in each case the customer get a 100 percent refund if not satisfied - what else could anyone want - they get to see the art in their home - and send it back for a full refund if they are not satisfied for any reason at all -

this is seeing it in person and - better than in a gallery - in their own environment where the art will be living for a while -

Thanks for the article Jason, I agree, like Mark, that 1-3 (personal contact) before the sale is more likely. I sold my first painting online this year. A buyer saw my work at an event and followed me for a year before purchasing a piece. She said she was confident she would like it since she had seen my work in person. A great reminder to keep my site updated.

Marsha Hamby Savage
Jason, I always enjoy reading your thoughts. You have been a great help in many ways over the years I have followed you, bought your book, and been a part of the Red Dot Blog, and on your website in the Artist Studios. I am enjoying this series of posts. Thank you.

I have sold all of the four ways you mention above. But, I believe the work I have sold via the internet and only seen that way has been in the $600 and under price range. There have been both people that have bought previously straight from me and from my galleries. And, there are many more that have bought "studies" I list in my Etsy Shop that I have never met, but have most likely followed or found me from Facebook, or maybe met me at an event and then have a business card.

I am making a renewed effort to get my newsletter back up and running consistently. I have neglected that aspect of keeping potential clients updated on new work that could be purchased via the internet.

I feel selling through all the four avenues you mention are the way of the future and having the ability to sell via the internet is very important. Hope that made sense!


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