Thursday 21 May 2020

Has the internet killed the antiques and collectables market?

Has the internet killed the antiques and collectables market ?

   As an antiques dealer with almost 20 years of experience I have seen both sides of the antiques and collectables market both pre and post internet era's and it is evolving at maybe a slower pace than some industries given the average age of the antique dealer of years gone by and it was quite a sad sight walking round previously booming antique fairs watching older generations selling there prized ceramics and collectables which were so popular with generations gone by and clearly not fully understanding the dramatic shift in the business that has taken place with the now long past introduction of the internet. 

  The change is so drastic in some areas especially mass produced ceramics that many stalls were well stocked like Royal Doulton figures and collector plates for example which since the internet has taken full control the prices of such items have dropped greatly literally lifting the rug from under the feet of many old time dealers in the process.  It is that bad in some circumstances that most of the stock these types of dealers hold will never again see the prices they paid for them in the first place never mind the prices they need for profit. 

   The mood and atmosphere started to drop quite significantly in antique fairs and shops as times were changing right in front of their eyes with many looking like rabbits caught in the preferbial headlights.  Of course this change has effected all industries over the same period of time but no more in my eyes that a business with it's roots firmly set in a simpler time we call the past. 

  There was a time that the antiques business (like many others) was a person to person trade type of business, accessibility of antiques and collectables was slim for most people as you really needed to visit your local store, go to your local antique fair or auction and in most cases wait for maybe weeks or months before your dealer or merchant could source the items you desired.  This Scarcity built what is known as a sellers market enabling the dealers who work hard in this business for a living to control the prices to achieve a fair income for the work involved. 

   Since the 1990's and the emergence of the internet has brought great challenges to a large proportion of the antiques industry, please forgive my generalisation here but a large proportion of antique dealers and collectors have historically but not at all in certainty an older persons game and older people have been proven to have greater trouble with the adaptation to the technology internet era.  Now is a very important time in the antiques industry and a visible change is taking place which probably has happened throughout the years but never before with such drastic changes as in the internet age,  the business because of its accessibility, world wide reach and technological advances is attracting more younger people in the game which is quite exiting to me as younger people have a quicker speed of adaptation to running business on the internet.  Now the world is a very different place to what it was 20 years ago with the internet bringing you options to sell to a worldwide market like Ebay, Etsy, Amazon etc.  Along with this it also brings increased competition resulting in more sellers than buyers for most mass produced vintage and antique ''middle of the road'' types of items creating what is known as a buyers market forcing prices down and in some cases collapsing prices altogether. 

*Case point
Royal Doulton porcelain figures

  Items like Royal Doulton figurines and many other what I like to call ''middle of the road items'' or mass produced items have really struggled during the internet era, These very collectable and previously highly expensive and desirable items used to sell regularly at antique fairs and antique stores all over the world fetching £60 to £120 per figure and sold quickly as demand was so high making them a staple of many antique dealer inventory. Royal Doulton Obliged and produced thousands upon thousands of these figures on a yearly bases to meet this demand ( as you do!).

   Roll on 20 years and the landscape is very different for these figures in particular, If you do a basic search on Ebay you will find many seller have them listed but when you check to ''sold prices'' you will see they now sell between £10-£30 per figure (sometimes more for exceptionally rare examples) but this is just one example of the new market we are in affecting the prices of mass produced collectable items.  I would not like to be looking back at how much I paid for these types of items back in the 1980's and 90's thinking of my collection as an investment ! But of course collectors don't always buy for investments sake and enjoyment should always be your main priority.

The internet has made the world a smaller place creating one large market place meaning all these mass produced items of before are now easily accessible and the market now looks flooded = Low prices. 

  Earning money as an antique dealer online on platforms like Ebay, Etsy and such like gives you massive opportunities as well as drawbacks and I would advise taking them all into account when planning your online business strategy. 

  The Biggest opportunity for me is the size of the market that online platforms like Ebay provide, I find the value you get for the price is excellent, Imagine being offered prime retail space in one of the top largest marketplaces in the world for a modest fee of approx. 20% of your sales! If you can work your pricing and profit margins correctly along with a professional looking well displayed shop/products then you are giving yourself a huge shot at success. 

  The biggest drawback I can see works hand in hand with the overall size of the market place, Flooding! Flooding of the market with many similar items creating a buyers market driving prices lower. You really have to pick your strategy well and execute it to overcome this drawback.  I will explain in the part what I mean by this.

Middle of the road market

   One strategy you can use online is to target the ''middle of the road'' market type of buyers , This market is a very large market regarding buyers and mainly consists of antique and vintage mass produced items like Doulton porcelain figures, collectors plates, collectable toys etc etc etc.             The prices for such items in general have dropped quite drastically since the internet era took hold meaning buying at the right price is crucial in this sector, I would focus on local antique auctions, Ebay job lots, house clearances and similar places to source your products as buying in bulk greatly reduces the cost of your stock leaving you great profit in slitting the lots up and selling individually .

   Another strategy is!

Rare, large and unusual

   This strategy can be greatly rewarding but may consist of greater costs of stock and more work involved in sourcing items but at the same time creating yourself an edge or a niche in the market.

   It requires you to find a way of sourcing high end, unusual or larger items which solve problems for the buyers of such items, because of the nature of these items they can be harder to source and sometimes even harder to ship but the buyers are out there who are willing to pay good money for these items, basically you will be swapping the buyers market scenario connected to the mass produced items I mentioned earlier to a sellers market! where the power shifts more toward the sellers, Harder to find, rare, unusual and large items command greater prices because of the desirability, and scarcity of the market which created more buyers than sellers of such items which puts the ball firmly in the court of the seller regarding pricing. 

   Obviously this strategy creates problems of its own, sourcing will be harder, you will have to put in more work sourcing the correct quality and style of items that stand out from the crowd, Auctions House clearances, local garage sales and flee markets are a good place to start training your eye to focus on quality and desirability.  Shipping is also a problem to overcome , prices of shipping can be high, packaging can be tricky and postal services are critical. You need to find a reliable shipping company who specialized in large items and also find packaging companies that cater for Large delicate items (many of these can be found on Ebay these days). 

   Making sure you get these areas correct along with good product display online with great descriptions and excellent photo's and this can be a very lucrative strategy to use. (My favourite).

   Items in this area don't need to be super expensive items like Tiffany and enamelled Russian silver eggs but the more unusual the better and the best quality the better. 


  Some of the most successful antiques dealers online are those who specialize in a certain area for example - Vintage glass, Chinese antiques, Furniture, Militaria etc.

  The reason behind specializing is because concentrating all your focus on one specific field or area greatly increases your knowledge and opportunity in that area, being a general dealer of many different types is also good but specialist shops stick clearly in peoples minds for instance if a collector has bought from you in the past and knows you only sell vintage glass then the next time he/she thinks about purchasing another piece for their collection they will remember you.  It gives you a greater chance of building a return customer base because you are catering for that specific niche alone and your customers will come to trust you on important things like quality and knowledge if you do it right.

  Specialist shops are a great strategy to use when building your online presence in my opinion as the best in any field will always out do a jack of all trades.  This requires great discipline on the dealers part however as it is very hard to walk past bargains at antique fairs. flea markets and others because they simple don't fit into your area of specialization.

  As mentioned this path can pay off long term if you stick to your discipline as your customer base will grow before your eyes built on a solid foundation of respect for your knowledge and trust of your quality.  I see this a bit like looking at another market leader is a different field of business, McDonalds for instance.  Have you ever wondered what makes them so popular and successful?  The main reason is because they specialize, they specialize in simple products and small menus help them perfect a small range of products that generate trust in the community that people know exactly what they are getting every time they order the product. Consistency is key . This translates to any business really as for example if you sell only vintage glass you can get so knowledgeable about your product you can offer consistent service every time building customer trust regarding authenticity, quality of product and good service.


   So basically we have come to the conclusion that although the internet has changed the antiques business greatly it has not killed or never will finish the business completely, you as dealers just need to do what humans do best and adapt to the changed times and keep adapting and you will find ways to compete and successfully source and get product out there. The antiques and collectables business like many others is now a worldwide market for the masses to take advantage of and no longer a closed shop that is manipulated by the larger auction houses and larger established dealers.  Embrace the new possibilities of this ever shrinking world (Not literally !) and push yourself into learning marketing and providing better service than you may have already done before, constantly learning and growing your knowledge is more prominent now than it ever has been for the average person like you and I. Learn as much as you can about marketing and photography and building brand and pcik a strategy and go!

   But Most of all get a good understanding of basic business principles like 'supply and demand' and understand what factors effect this principle.  For example if an online market place has 10.000 Royal Doulton ceramic figures listed then compare that to how many sold in the past 30 days and you will realise that the supply outstrips the demand which greatly effects the achievable prices, this is an important point to remember especially when you are buying stock from dealers and collectors who maybe purchased these types of items before the introduction of the internet.

So Do your homework!

  I hope you all enjoyed this read and found it helpful to you by providing some value to your business goals.

  Stay positive , Stay well and good luck!

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