Rear view: No. 2 – Growth of online auctions

Credit: Original article published by Classic Cars Journal.

Year in Review

The collector car auction world started 2020 just like any normal year with Arizona Auction Week and Mecum Auction’s huge event at Kissimmee, Florida. Weeks later, there was the Amelia Island Concours and assorted auctions. 

But in the middle of March, everything came to a stop faster than an F1 car heading into a hairpin turn. Scores of live auctions around the world were cancelled, and auction companies were soon struggling to moved their sales online.

Although some online auctions, such as‘s own AutoHunter online auction site, already were in development, they started popping up during 2020 like corn in the microwave. Bring a Trailer had evolved into the big player, but it was joined by a number of other online-only auctions, including Bids, Hemmings, Stratus and, of course, AutoHunter.

With coronavirus infection concerns forcing them to cancel live on-site auctions,the major auction houses beganstaging their auctions online instead; Gooding & Company and RM Sotheby’s staged a succession of internet auctions that generated millions in sales.

2020 became the year that auction customers flocked to the internet to buy and sell their collector cars. Sell-through rates have increased on all the platforms, and cars valued at $200,000 and up, which had been considered unsalable online, started selling on a regular basis. 

Before the pandemic, the online auction environment was considered by many experts to be an afterthought to the excitement of live auctions. This has changed as online collector car auctions became big business, and in the process helped make lemonade of an otherwise lemon of a year.  Consider that Bring a Trailer sold to Hearst for what is believed to have been around $40 million. 

What this has done is create a disruption in the market. The continued success of online auctions in acquiring and selling cars, and for those that are online only as well as those tied to traditional auction formats, makes the internet a potent force for the future of the collector car marketplace.

What will happen in 2021 is anyone’s guess. My prediction is that the best of the online auctions will continue to grow, especially the ones that have a larger company behind them, and remain an increasingly significant part of collector car auctioneering. 

I would not be surprised if the brick-and-mortar auction companies continued to grow their own online sales to the point of holding fewer in-person auctions. 

No matter what happens, online auctions are here to stay, and they should make the collector car market in 2021 even more interesting.

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