Online auctions are gaining popularity, but the traditionalists are still sold on the idea of live auctions that guarantee a good show, with emotions and bids running high. In an industrialized area approximately 30 minutes from Sandton, the commercial hub of Johannesburg, is a shining fleet of trucks, parked and ready to be sold to the highest bidder. The sun reflects off the windshields in the direction of the registered bidders as they sit under red outdoor umbrellas at the entrance of the property. Some opt for refreshments, while others make small talk with their competition. A man uses this time to make phone calls to a mechanic, who discourages him from making a regrettable bid on a “non-runner”. He runs towards the towering fleet of trucks, where he joins the eager buyers as they take a final peek before the auction begins. We are at Aucor Auctioneers’ popular commercial auction, at their head office in Midrand. After spending four hours traveling to Johannesburg from Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province), for the auction, Charles Malibe gets into a heated bidding war that lasts no longer than a minute but is packed with plenty of fervent action. Charles Malibe in a heated bidding war for a truck. Picture: Gypseenia Lion It is noon and an overjoyed Malibe has just won a R465,000 ($32,401) bid on a second-hand truck. “I attended my first auction three years ago. Sometimes you get it wrong and sometimes you get the right stuff at the right price. It is good to be exposed to new things. I went to Durban once, but I did not get anything there. It was not a waste. It is not only about getting things, it gives you exposure,” he says. As Malibe heads back to Nelspruit, the auctioneer remains chanting until the last vehicle is sold, with the crowd getting smaller with each purchase. Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant, manages the national marketing for the 51-year-old auctioneering company. Digitalization has disrupted traditional norms of advertising, and has made the industry more accessible for both buyers and sellers. “Selling any asset boils down to supply and demand. The advantage of buying in an auction is cutting out the middleman, saving that money and getting something of real top value,” he says. Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant. Picture: Gypseenia Lion Marketing the call to action remains a vital component for the business. “Social media has to be on point when we market a particular auction,” Babamia says. Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are some of the biggest platforms, apart from the traditional pamphlets and website advertising strategies. According to Babamia, online bidding has pulled in more numbers over the past four years. He sees a rapid transformation in the auctions landscape in the foreseeable future. According to a South African Institute of Auctioneers (SAIA) report, Gauteng is the highest province of interest with over 6,000 potential buyers (for all kinds of auctions including residential properties, retail vehicles, jewelry and collectables) on its website, while the Northern Cape is the lowest with just over 1,000 buyers. The traditional means of auctioning have had to make way for digital platforms that have been steadily increasing over the last decade. SAIA records close to 100,000 visitors to online auctions in 2010; the first half of 2019 is already at 400,000 visitors. Last year’s record 600,000 visitors reflect that the online market could be just as lucrative as the live auctions. As the state of the South African economy remains uncertain, Babamia suggests that auctioneering will always provide a cheaper option to consumers. An industry that has been in existence for more than 2,000 years continues to grow despite its many iterations over the years. Ancient Greek records on auctions dating as far back as 500BC show women were auctioned off to become wives. Auctions were popular for family estates and the selling of war plunder in Rome. As a result of the great depression in the 1900s, the United States opened auction schools to generate income as businesses and individuals needed to liquidate assets to withstand the economic crisis. In recent times, market trends have changed dramatically to adapt to socioeconomic norms. A shift to online auctioneering has been a great development and contributor to the fluid industry. Orbis Research reports that the global online auction market is expected to grow during the period 2018-2022 with a 7.2% compound annual growth rate. “Another major trend witnessed in the online auction is the immense impact of artificial intelligence (AI). AI’s main role in an online auction is to perform different tasks such as processing internal operations, customer-service inquiries, delivery and product packaging. In the last years, AI has instigated a gradual shift, from conventional auction to online auction,” the report states. The increase in sales of art-based goods through online auctions is a key market driver. Traditional live auctions, however, are still a preferred option for bargain-hunters, despite the global steer towards digitalization. This is according to fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. in the affluent northern suburb of Johannesburg, Houghton Estate. Moving to simpler models will improve the industry by providing a greater competitive edge, he says. “There is a growing interest and understanding of auctions across a broad section of people where, maybe, a couple of decades ago it was seen as just for the very rich people doing very rich things. “People are realizing that it is a great way of finding weird and beautiful objects, artwork and furniture at quite reasonable prices,” he says. The increase of auction houses in South Africa offers a variety to buyers and sellers, with SAIA having 80,546 members registered by April 2019. As a result, the art and design market is at an advantage. “The South African art market on auction is always evolving and broadening. The importance to history and art history is being realized and there is a growing interest and demand for these. It is encouraging a lot of the younger artists working with galleries to look at the history and heritage of artistic practice in this country,” Crossley says. “With growing appreciation for South African and African art overseas, a couple of international houses based in England regularly do sales of more historical work. The audience overseas means a lot for the artists, the country and the future.” Selling or buying art on auction engages the audience as well as the creator. “The gallery, thus, becomes the primary market where young artists can build their careers; whereas auctions and private individuals with a passion for art can sell work they own, re-invest in other artists, or buy.