How the world’s largest art gallery do it – Rebecca Wilson from Saatchi Art (episode 260)

Rebecca Wilson is the chief curator at Saatchi Art, the world’s leading online art gallery. Launched online in 2011 in Q3 2019 they grew by a whopping 35%.

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How Saatchi Art Went Online

Rebecca got into the world of eCommerce partially by accident. While she was working at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2007, the gallery had to undergo a series of renovations that took longer than expected.

The team got a bit impatient waiting for things to get up and going and decided to give the internet a try. In 2007, Rebecca points out, the internet wasn’t new, but it certainly wasn’t being capitalized on by people in the art world. Together the team decided to bring together all the best aspects of great curation and properly looked after artists and collectors with the internet’s tremendous global reach.

At that point, Rebecca says their online presence was more of a portfolio space for artists to display their work. Quite quickly, with no marketing at all, the space exploded with tens of thousands of up and coming artist portfolios. At this point, Rebecca says the team recognized the need to transform that space from online portfolio sharing to a proper online gallery where consumers could easily purchase work. In 2011, the team launched that eCommerce space, starting with 5 artists and have grown tremendously since then. 

The Online Advantage

Rebecca says that online space is a liberation for artists because of how it allows them to drive their own career. Building relationships with artists is an important aspect of Rebecca’s job but she’s also there to represent buyers, which means she essentially has two different customer groups.

Rebecca and her team have spent a lot of time and energy figuring out how to make more and better tools and resources for artists who use the Saatchi Art online space. One of Rebecca’s favorite programs is art advising—which gives artists direct access to up to eight different curators for advice on what clients are looking for and it offers consumers complimentary art advising.

Understanding what consumer’s specific needs are allows artists to be intentional about what they make and clients get free art advising just for working with Saatchi Art—a service they’d otherwise be paying upwards of $250/hr for. 

Online Access

The advisory service also bridges the emotional gap that can sometimes happen online and Rebecca says that buying art, going to galleries and knowing what kind of language is appropriate can be an intimidating prospect for buyers.

The online experience takes that entirely away. The majority of sales on Saatchi Art are from direct online purchases from consumers, but Rebecca says that 30-40% of their sales come through their advisory service. In this respect, Saatchi Art is covering the needs of a broader and more diverse client base. 

Online galleries have broken down a lot of boundaries that were impervious before the internet and Rebecca says that making art accessible has been great for their business but has also been great for the art world in general. 

Unlikely Marketing

Saatchi Art does do quite a lot of online advertising, but they also have had success with their printed catalogue, which has become incredibly popular. Over 32 pages, potential customers can see a huge range of a variety of kinds of work.

The tangible experience of receiving something that is so beautifully produced from a source that is intelligent, friendly and has curation expertise has been a key marketing tool for the company. 70-80% of the work featured in the catalog goes on to sell, but the primary reason the company prints a catalog is because of the buzz and excitement it creates for the whole online store.

The Other Art Fair

Saatchi Art has done a lot of pop-up gallery experiences to compliment the online gallery and Rebecca says that that part of the business is growing extremely fast since the acquisition of The Other Art Fair.

The artists love it and so do consumers. Over a short period of time, The Other Art Fair has grown from just 5 events per year to 14 upcoming for 2020.

Having these fairs allows customers to see the calibre of the work in person and even if they ultimately purchase a different piece of art online at a later date they have confidence that the work coming from the Saatchi Art brand is going to be high quality. 

Pioneers in the Art Field

The online gallery world has been often seen as a parallel, slightly inferior universe, but Rebecca points out that Saatchi Art represents around 100,000 artists now. Online galleries, she contends, are changing the way people look at art overall.

She also points out that the online space has allowed them to represent men and women equally, which hasn’t been the case in the brick and mortar art world. Only 14% of acquisition from museums was of female artists last year, which Rebecca says represents a staggering, but not surprising inequality.

The prejudice that art created by men sells better has been actively disproven by Saatchi Art and Rebecca says that their sales are roughly 50/50 men to women and that their top-selling artist in 2019 was a woman. Saatchi Art has been able to be a pioneer in this space and takes very seriously their mission to represent diversity in their collection.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

Rebecca jokes that she is not a fan of books that tell you how to do business and offers this piece of advice instead:

  • Learn to change your mindset and be agile in your thinking. She says she and her team are constantly testing everything they do and learning from it.

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Continue to convince clients of your worth and value with really top end content. Constantly provide value.

Tool Top Tip

Growth Top Tip

  • Learn who your customers really are. That has been a challenge for Saatchi Art, but is what accelerated their recent growth.

Interview Links

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