Q&A: eBay and Sotheby's Offer New Live Auction Experiences

eBay Inc. Staff

On March 17, eBay and Sotheby’s made partnership announcements surrounding new Live Auction experiences that they will be collaborating on. In the following interview, a group of leaders of this initiative from eBay discuss the partnership and what to expect. They are:

  • Teil Wise, Senior Manager User Experience and Design
  • David Green, Group Product Manager, Managed and Emerging Verticals
  • Megan Ford, Director, Emerging Verticals and Live Auctions

Here are their thoughts:


How are eBay and Sotheby’s working together? What has been announced?

Teil: We partnered with Sotheby’s to establish them as the anchor brand for our Live Auction experience.  I remember last January, on a chilly morning in New York City, we visited Sotheby’s very impressive offices. There were men in white gloves shuffling about, and each floor had its own gallery. We were there to see how best to bring their brand and inventory to our millions of users. 

What we’ve just announced is the full Sotheby’s storefront on eBay. The storefront includes a landing page dedicated to Sotheby’s and their events, information, and of course, a bidding console that can give every eBay user a virtual paddle for participating in Sotheby’s auctions.


eBay has done Live Auctions before, with limited success.  What is different now?

David: On the technology side, we have a lot of opportunities to leverage things like server-to-server communications and AJAX technology that simply couldn’t have worked well from a customer experience perspective a few years back.  Additionally, we’ve added in some great technology innovations such as streaming live video and our Bid Console.

Times have definitely changed, especially with the introduction of mobile as customers are now much more likely (and comfortable) to buy via mobile. On the customer side, we’ve built out our own Art & Collectibles businesses since we first tried Live Auctions. We have demonstrated that we can attract customers there, that we can establish trust with them as they make high-end purchases, and more.


You’ve discussed a “museum view” experience with the Live Auctions that will be available. What is that?

David: When we first started with this, we looked into what kinds of experiences would really delight customers. This started from a design perspective.

With “Museum View” what we’re doing is bringing some parts of an auction experience in the real world into the online experience. If you’re actually in an art gallery, for example, you can step in to view a piece more closely. We think we’re providing that kind of experience with museum view online in a way that really parallels the offline experience. We’re using rich media to highlight highly curated content, including video with zoom functionality, and a lot more.


What gives you confidence that in an online medium, people will have confidence in buying things, that are—in some cases—high-ticket items?

Teil: It actually comes down to appreciation and education. People who buy inventory of the type that Sotheby’s showcases are used to going to museums and galleries.  We wanted to capture the actual experience of, say, moving in close to see the brush strokes in a painting, and viewing the information on a card next to the painting.

In several ways, we offer online visitors to these Live Auctions more ways to vet items than they have in the real world. We offer videos with background on items, and points of view from curators as part of the experience.  With more context, buyers will feel more confident in purchasing items at all price levels.

Megan: Sotheby’s does have high-end clientele and eBay has very broad-based clientele. What we’re looking to do is bring Sotheby’s inventory to millions of people on eBay. We’re more focused on that than on trying to convert Sotheby’s clientele onto eBay.


eBay is known for its strong mobile technology. Why aren’t there more mobile aspects of the partnership with Sotheby’s?

David: From a design perspective, we do allow users to browse on mobile devices and much more. As we grow out the mobile experience, we want to make absolutely sure that we’re meeting customer expectations. To deliver the best possible mobile experience, we’re working on some additional technology tools. New mobile experiences will roll out soon.


What do you think these Live Auction experiences will look like a few years from now?

David: There are definitely emerging technologies that will impact that, and we’re looking at them every day. These will help deliver great experiences, and we’ll talk to our customers and partners to best determine how to leverage new technology.

Teil: I would stress that the current museum view we offer in the experience is pretty trailblazing. It immerses you in a gallery experience. The close-up zoom features are great. We have a term called “Seat on the Wall” that we use to describe aspects of the experience that allow you to feel a strong sense of presence when browsing items. Through a Seat on the Wall view, you can see any item relative to, say, couches and plants and have a very realistic view of the size and impact of the piece you’re looking at.

Megan: When you think about integrated payments, integrated shipping, and international expansion, you can quickly get into many things that don’t exist in the auction house industry today.  We’ll be making advancements in all these area in the coming years.


How would you define success for this Live Auctions program, say, two years from now?

Teil: I want to see us familiarize customers with the wide variety of items that Sotheby’s sells, and demystify the Sotheby’s brand for some of them. Additionally, we’d love customers to see the breadth and depth of Sotheby’s inventory beyond art. They also offer high-end jewelry, screenprints, sculptures, etc. 

I want to make sure that we keep delivering compelling technology-based experiences like Seat on the Wall. We have developed that experience for what is essentially a simulated wall, but what if you could see a piece on your own wall? What if you could go to different rooms in your house and see how a given painting looks there?

David: I think success is going to be defined by how well we do at taking inventory that has traditionally been seen as only available offline, and showing that it can be compelling to buy that inventory online. We want to prove that you don’t have to fly to New York to attend a Sotheby’s event in person. Instead, you can have a rich experience through eBay.