How the internet is revitalising the classic car auction market

| 1 Nov 2019
Classic & Sports Car – How the internet is revitalising the classic car auction market

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Scouring classifieds. It’s a habit we’ve all fallen into, one that starts during rare moments of downtime and turns minutes into hours.

It’s a hobby that’s been afflicting people since the dawn of printed media and evolved with the internet to a point where you can now get your hit anywhere, any time. 

With eBay, it’s become that little bit more dangerous because those moments of weakness can quite easily turn into actual cars at the click of a button. eBay has had a monopoly on that part of the classic-car world for decades, but its grip is beginning to loosen.

Online auctioneers Collecting Cars and The Market are two platforms that are taking eBay on at its own game, and both are hoping – and finding – that offering a little extra goes a long way.

Classic & Sports Car – How the internet is revitalising the classic car auction market
The Market’s large image galleries and online documentation give buyers confidence

Each recognises the impact ‘the world’s biggest marketplace’ has had, but Tim Joslyn of The Market labels eBay a “Wild West, with people not following through on deals or even if they did they would come and haggle.”

But what it has done is make buyers and sellers comfortable doing their business online – and even prefer it, because of the obvious benefits.

Collecting Cars founder Edward Lovett says: “Our vendors don’t have to shoulder any transport costs to move their car around the country because, for the entire period of the auction, it stays with them. Being online-only also means we aren’t hampered by venue schedules or staff availability as to when we can sell cars. Without exception, there is always something live on our site to bid on. 

“Traditional vendors might be surprised to hear that more than 95% of our sold lots were bought without a physical viewing of the car. That’s what happens when you provide more than 120 images and a detailed description – it delivers a ‘virtual viewing’ that can often reveal more than an in-person walkaround. Quality of presentation is absolutely central to our platform.”

What buyers need most is trust, and that’s hard to build for a start-up looking to help shift expensive collector cars.

“When you start out,” explains Joslyn, “you have to persuade sellers you’ll get them a good price. We started out with lower-value cars, because there was an audience there, and we promoted them via eBay and other websites. We had to build trust with our user base, especially because we’re asking for credit card details for verification.

“As time has gone on we have got lots of glowing reviews and sold hundreds of cars, and now we get better headline prices and are achieving 95% [sell-through rate].

“We had a Volvo Amazon that was advertised for £18/19,000 privately but wouldn’t sell, and we got him £38,000. A Ferrari 308 that again the owner had tried to sell privately for the high £40,000s, we got him £57/58k.”

Classic & Sports Car – How the internet is revitalising the classic car auction market
A diverse bunch at the Collecting Cars launch

Ensuring quality descriptions, often written by dedicated writers, has made a difference to both.

“I wanted Collecting Cars to deliver a more curated experience for buyers and a more specialised and secure platform for sellers,” says Lovett. ”Many of our vendors are people who've used traditional auctions before but, like us, have grown tired of the format and costs involved.

“They love the fresh approach that Collecting Cars is taking. What’s perhaps even more significant, though, is that we are bringing in sellers who are completely new to the auction world. These are people who had no interest in a ‘one-day sale’, but who appreciate a 21st-century approach to collectable car auctions.”

It took just six months from launch for Collecting Cars to sell its first car, while The Market grew out of car-history site Patina after Josyln had experimented in selling his 944 turbo.

“We looked at how to commercialise the site, which is a digital vehicle history platform, and one way was with auction companies,” he says. “Before, sellers had to go to the man in the corner with the boxfile to get a car’s history, whereas Patina documents what that car has done, where it’s been, where it’s been featured, plus things like invoices and servicing online.

“So we ran a pilot with Historics [auction house] and I said, ‘When you’ve got a very, very similar car of equal quality, let’s put them in together – but mine will link online and in the catalogue to the Patina record so people can have the history and knowledge in advance.’ They had three people come down who wouldn’t normally have been there, two from Yorkshire and one from Scotland, because they were able to view 100-plus photos, a full history, and knew it was worth travelling for.

“It sold for £24,000, the other for £14,000. We decided to extend the Patina platform to have an auction on top of it, and that is where The Market was born.”

Classic & Sports Car – How the internet is revitalising the classic car auction market
Collecting Cars has created an engaged online community

Collecting Cars made a big entrance at the start of 2019, helped by a podcast presented by co-founder Chris Harris, but also by embracing new media.

“Collecting Cars is so deeply rooted in the digital world that some buyers have found us through social,” explains Lovett. “We have put a huge amount of effort into honing our brand and community and have the most active and engaged social audience of any collectable car auction platform in Europe, which is growing rapidly through word-of-mouth recommendations.

“The Collecting Cars Podcast has also given us a broadcast channel that no other automotive brand can match. In the four months since launch, it's had more than 250,000 downloads and is currently the all-time number one automotive podcast on iTunes. Collecting Cars is more than just a buying and selling platform – we’ve created a new community for car enthusiasts.”

The Market and Collecting Cars are far from the only online auction platforms, with others including the long-established Trade Classics in the UK and Hemmings in the US. 

Traditional auction houses, meanwhile, are also testing the waters of online sales, but specifying a date and time and retaining a similar fee structure to hosted sales.

There’s no reason to suggest the two concepts of on- and offline auctions won’t live happily in harmony together, though – not least because it’s difficult to see a Ferrari 250GTO ever changing hands via the click of a button. 

Then again, for most of us, that’s not the sort of car we’re poring over for hours on end while wondering if the other half will notice another vehicle parked outside… 


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