With the virus still omnipresent and social distancing highly recommended by those who know, it is time to take a look at what makes a good on-line antique show. Several have been held in the past weeks, with more ongoing or opening soon, and I think we have a large enough sample to draw some conclusions at least from the collector point of view. Dealers may have a whole set of other criteria and opinions.
Many of the facets of a good “old-fashioned” in-person antique show hold true for those on-line: a good mix of excellent dealers, different genre of American antiques represented, pieces at various price points for sale, some items fresh to the market and good also, and lots of marketing. Collectors need to know when the show begins and ends, its hours, and where it is located. And for goodness sakes, open the show on time, please.
While parking is bemoaned (its cost and distance from a venue) for the “old-fashioned” shows, easy access to a show’s website for the on-line shows is a must. Instead of free tickets dealers need to be able to email collectors with whom they work and to whom they have sold in the past with a hot link to the show. One click and the customer is there. And once at the show collectors need to find an intuitive platform, easy to navigate.
Antique shows always (I hope this is true, if not nearly always) distribute to those in line and have sitting on a table by the entrance a list of dealers and where their booths are located. Collectors often make a bee-line for certain dealers because they know they are likely to have pieces for sale that fit the collector’s tastes and collection. On-line shows need to do the same. A list of dealers needs to be provided and a collector should be able to click on a dealer and be shown the items in his virtual booth. Some on-line platforms shows have utilized do not have this feature and they really should the next time around.
As a collector I want to be able to search by dealer, by genre (e.g., furniture, paintings), or look at all items for sale. Dealer information also is helpful. I visited one show on-line recently and after viewing what the first eight or 10 dealers had for sale nothing appeared on my screen. I then had to either search by genre or look at all items for sale. In brief, a strong platform with good technical support is a must.
As for my preferences, and I would appreciate hearing yours, I like prices on all items (although I imagine some dealers do not want to do so). I also like items that have sold to remain in the show with a sold banner or red dot. It is informative for collectors to see what pieces have sold on the virtual show floor. I know that at in person shows some collectors ask dealers to remove items immediately that they have purchased. But at an on-line show I believe it is wise to show collectors there are people shopping and buying, and for us to be able to experience a bit of buyer’s remorse if a piece we looked at once or twice suddenly has a sold tag next to it.
Dealers need to describe items clearly. While this was probably always true dealers are available in their booths at an in-person show for quick (or after only a short wait) information on a piece a collector is interested in. While one would not expect dealers to be sitting at their devices every minute of every hour of an on-line show, collectors interested in pieces should be able to get more information beyond a good item description in a reasonable amount of time. And also, be able to get feedback on an offer they have made as to price.
I know of at least one on-line show that provided its dealers with a tutorial on how to proceed and what was expected. Such support is critical especially for less technologically savvy dealers who need someone to help them out. The hard work of an on-line show is similar to the old-fashioned ones – most of the heavy lifting takes place before the doors open.
Also, if a show is listed as Americana it should have a great deal of American antiques for sale. And it must have variety, not 90% glassware or the like. If the latter simply label the show for what it is just as an auction house labels an auction. Transparency is important.
Another item, should dealers save pieces for a special on-line show? I would argue yes, they should. But I do not have enough data to know if this is a wise decision or a good one financially. It certainly would add to an online show’s cachet.
My understanding is that a good on-line antique show takes a lot of hours before the show opens, just as is true of the old-fashioned show, but in this case to help dealers with photographs, item descriptions and the like. No cries for better lighting, no complaints about the carpet, aisle widths, music played, or restrooms. If on-line shows are to come of age then promoters and dealer associations need to spend the time and dollars to draw collectors to them. Make sure dealers take multiple photos of each piece so a collector who asks can easily be provided with them. In the age of iPhones and easy to use cameras taking those photos should not burden dealers.
And after all that work why not have a “feedback button” for collectors who visit the show so they can offer suggestions for making the next one better, and let the promoter(s) know what they thought of it. A few specific questions could be asked about ease of navigating the show website, quality of dealers and pieces for sale, and so forth. And always allow collectors to offer comments.