“The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.” Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Morte d’Arthur.
We are prompted to write after reading the report on the LAPADA conference. One can detect in it a note of barely veiled cynicism towards the new cyber-reality in which we live. Just in case this view is more wide-spread amongst AAD readers, we want to mention just one or two points to get people to smell the coffee. This is not just a passing trend: the way business is done has changed for good. This is not an optional matter that one can afford to tolerate like one does a neighbour’s naughty child, knowing that they will go away in due time and you can return to what your were doing before the disruption.
1. Comet, Jessops, Blockbuster, HMV and now Republic are some UK High Street names we will not be seeing any more. That’s 1311 UK stores closed, and over 19,000 people out of a job. And, guess what, they all had websites and they all probably paid for SEO strategies and the rest. What went wrong? They embraced the form without embracing the implication of the new order. We have entered the information age and the old rules don’t cut it any more. A website is not a brochure, only cheaper and easier to update. That’s old thinking. These big names went out of business because people could get what they were offering from the comfort of their living rooms. How much longer before people are able to buy what you sell without needing to leave their living rooms?
2. ‘Send me the Jpeg’. Anyone in the art market will be familiar with this phrase, which is being repeated with alarming frequency these days. Why is this happening? Two main reasons can be offered: Who wants to enter an empty gallery in Bond Street, where a posh lady in a black number and perfectly manicured nails eyes you like a vulture at meal time? It’s much easier to avoid the intimidation and shop from a distance – because you now can! A second reason will be that the art market has been successful in positioning paintings as an investment. It is rare for a painting that has been authenticated by experts to lose value. So, if you are buying as much for investment as for pleasure, you don’t need someone to give you the big sales spiel. Antiques have yet to attain that status: TV programmes related to antiques show that people buying in order to re-sell often lose money. Knowledge is the key! As soon as someone manages to convince the buying public that antiques and luxury design will not only hold value, but will increase over time, dealers too will start hearing the refrain ‘send me the jpeg’. And physical premises will be less relevant than cyberspace as the window to market.
3. In the new order, in which millions of pieces of information are available to millions of people in an instant, no one can afford to be narrow in their outlook. This was one of the areas that KEMZ Project was banging on about three years ago, and what we have attempted to grasp on this site. One needs to break out of the narrow silo thinking because the buying public has done that. With some rare exceptions, no one is creating a museum to the past. The modern collector is happy to mix Louis XIV, with Phillipe Starck and Damien Hirst. The information age has spawned the ‘Lifestyle Sector’. To believe that one is operating in the ‘antiques sector’ is evidence that one has not grasped what the open information revolution has done: no one can operate in a narrow dark corner. No secrets, no possibility of ring fencing knowledge. No silos. Ask interior designers if they think in silos! Now ask yourself what it would mean to how you conduct your affairs if you saw yourself as part of the massive lifestyle sector instead of the narrow antique market: how would your organisation’s culture, practices and network of relationships change? How would you now use technologies?
4. This leads smoothly to the final point worth making: in the new order, the idea of ‘my mailing list’ or ‘my precious client list’ is a joke. Do you really believe that the collector who buys from you is only on your list? The jealous hoarding of information is no longer tolerated by the information age collector who surfs the waves of the internet and social media technologies as second nature. The person looking for Louis XIV furniture simple goes to the cyber oracle and types in ‘Louis XIV furniture’ and the search engine will produce (when I just did it) 1,130,000 results. When I added the word ‘dealers’ to my search, it gave me 1,660, 000 results! Search for antique silver dealers and the number jumps to 2million. Do you really believe that your precious ‘gold list’ with, at most, a couple of thousand names is any protection? What are the implications of pooling lists? What is the value in sending your customer to a ‘competitor’? What happens to the word ‘competitor’ in the knowledge age?
None of the above is to say that it is not possible to build a specialist, niche brand reputation around a focussed offering. It does raise, however, a question about how sustainable such a model is. It could be likened to a person falling from the top of the London Shard and shouting to people on each floor on the way down: ‘See, I’m still here!’ How much and how fast you discount may be important in the very, very, very short term, but understanding what people today are really buying is the only long term guarantee of survival of the sector.
The old order has changed, start flapping.
Elliot Lee & Peter Bonnici