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Fulfillment Infrastructure For Art, Antiques Catching Up To Digital Age

Over the last several years, and especially the last 18 months, consumers have fully embraced a frictionless eCommerce experience. An item goes in a digital shopping cart and with one click, they can pay for and ship their purchase before returning to the latest show on Netflix.

But when it comes to buying antiques, art and collectible items from auction houses, the experience isn’t nearly as seamless.

“The collectible ecosystem is really one of the last frontiers to go digital,” Adam Fields, founder and CEO of logistics software company ARTA, told PYMNTS. “A big part of that is because of how high-friction the transactional fulfillment experience is.”

Unlike consumer goods and other mass-produced items, which generally only need a shipping label and can be packaged in automated warehouses, collectibles such as art, baseball cards and other high-value items “need to be packaged appropriately” after being authenticated and insured, Fields said.

“You can’t plug into a FedEx or UPS rate API (application programming interface) because you really need services that don’t flow through the parcel supply chain,” he said. Instead, buyers are often forced to pay for their item in one transaction and shipping in another transaction after the merchant has calculated the correct cost.

Two years ago, antique dealers, art galleries and other collectible merchants may have been able to focus on in-person sales and slower logistical timeframes, but the pandemic accelerated digital adoption in nearly every part of the economy, and Fields said collectibles are no different.

“There are a lot of businesses that are recognizing their potential to tap into this market, and we’re helping them get to market a lot faster, along with the incumbents who are recognizing that they can’t rely on brick-and-mortar sales anymore,” he told PYMNTS.

Related: Art Collecting Goes Digital As New Generation Comes Of Age

A report released earlier this year by online art marketplace Artsy found that online art sales made up 25 percent of the entire art market. Also, over 83 percent of buyers say they have purchased art online at least once, a jump from the 64 percent who had done so in 2019.

International Coordination 

Earlier this year, ARTA released a new API that allows merchants to instantaneously display projected shipping costs on a product page, allowing for a one-click checkout experience as well as real-time tracking and status updates, another feature that is ubiquitous in the sale of consumer goods that has been absent from the collectible ecosystem.

“We’ve essentially unified a couple hundred vendors on a local, regional, national and international level across 75 countries for buyers and sellers to tap into the fulfillment logistics infrastructure that general consumers have come to expect,” Fields said.

According to PYMNTS’ U.S. Global Digital Shopping Index, nearly 40 percent of consumers have utilized a retailer’s shipping information when making a purchase, and every one of the top merchants shares information about shipping with consumers during eCommerce transactions. Only 2 percent of the bottom-performing merchants do so.

See more: More Than 40 Pct Of U.S. Consumers Shop Through Digital Channels … And Stay There

Fields told PYMNTS that it was “a tremendous challenge” to coordinate with so many different vendors across international borders, but “we’re starting to see the fruits of that labor.”

“It’s similar to how credit card companies start local and regional and then build up internationally, and then all of a sudden, you can use your credit card anywhere in the world,” he said. “You don’t really think much about it, but it took a long time to get to that point.”

Still More to Do

While Fields said that streamlining shipping and fulfillment is a step in the right direction, there’s still more for collectible merchants to do, especially when it comes to payments and fraud protection. “We’re just starting to force people to recognize that they can charge a credit card and not send out an invoice and receive a check,” he told PYMNTS.

And as ARTA’s shipping technology becomes a part of art and antique dealers’ operations, Fields said they’re “finally opening their eyes to the efficiencies that technology can afford them.”

“We see a massive opportunity in really trying to own the infrastructure layer for this entire collectible ecosystem,” he added.

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