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A New Approach to
Online Auctions

While virtual auctions have benefits including fewer time constraints and greater international exposure, the technology required can be tricky to navigate. Barnebys discussed the increased importance of e-commerce with Wade Terwilliger at Palm Beach Modern Auctions to learn about some of the issues the company has faced in the online auction world as well as the solution they found with Barnebys’ auction management software, Skeleton.

Located in West Palm Beach, Florida, Palm Beach Modern Auctions specializes in 20th-century fine and decorative arts and design. Garnering international attention with their three major auctions and several boutique sales every year, the auction house is no stranger to operating online. Palm Beach Modern Auctions made a name for itself as an event-based auction house, creating lavish catered events complete with cocktails, white tablecloths, and valet parking that frequently drew crowds of well over a hundred people. 

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This bespoke treatment and focus on quality assured a loyal base of both customers and consignors, but Palm Beach Modern Auctions had to rethink their approach when the coronavirus pandemic hit. While they generally end their season in May and use the summer to relax, work on special projects and build the autumn auction, this year the small team worked tirelessly through the summer. They helped their clients transition to bidding online or by phone and these efforts were rewarded with significant growth in the last year.   

Because of the industry’s dramatic shift towards online bidding, Palm Beach Modern Auctions needed to overhaul their existing software and auction management system. They had been relying on multiple third-party platforms that weren’t fully integrated with their website and accounting software, and wanted to find an all-in-one solution. There is a lot of trust involved when independent auction houses use third-party management systems, because companies like Palm Beach Modern Auctions have spent years building up leads and client databases – sensitive information that is integral to their business. Palm Beach Modern had issues in the past with auction platforms behaving as competitors rather than teammates, and because they developed a strong trust in Barnebys after working together for over five years, they decided to begin using Skeleton. 

Launched by Barnebys Group in 2019, Skeleton is the only white label auction platform on the market that allows businesses to run auctions on their own website while connecting to their existing database and administrative system. It streamlines the process of accepting and cataloguing objects, registering sellers and shipping items, ultimately promoting sales and saving time as everything is included in one program. This allows companies like Palm Beach Modern Auctions to become leaders in the online marketplace without having to hand over their business to an outside company. 

Other management sites have become competitors rather than teammates, but Skeleton enables auction houses to own all of their data on consignors and bidders without relying on third-party platforms. 

“You lose your company identity with some of these platforms; in their attempt to gain more revenue they’re getting into our business… Barnebys is one of the few that understood what purpose it served in the marketplace and has been very clear about not getting in the way of us doing business,” says Wade Terwilliger, one of the owners of Palm Beach Modern Auctions. As a forward-thinking company, Palm Beach Modern Auctions wanted new software to match this and chose Skeleton because of its usability and analytics, and its ability to migrate client databases and incorporate existing accounting software.

“Convenience, security and features they will actually use will be key converting clients to this new system. I believe Skeleton offers all that. They will be able to create their own profiles, save things they like, and monitor their bids in an easy-to-understand way,” says Wade.

Usability and ease of navigation for bidders is Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ biggest priority when it comes to their website. With Skeleton, clients will be able to bid directly on the website rather than through a third-party application, streamlining the process of virtual auctions. This also means bidders will be able to keep their personal data in one place, an important perk when privacy and cyber-security are ever-growing concerns. 

Skeleton’s top-notch analytics will also be a time saver that benefits Palm Beach Modern Auctions, and, ultimately, their clients. The auction house goes above and beyond for their customers, offering a concierge service liaison that notifies VIP collectors about items in upcoming sales which they may be interested in, based on their previous buying patterns. Before, the team had to comb through sales invoices manually, which was a very time-consuming process. With Skeleton, they will be able to quickly pull up lists of past buyers for items such as ‘Picasso ceramics’, and easily contact them if a similar item goes up for auction. 

Although Palm Beach Modern Auctions has firmly established its online presence, the team also misses the intimacy and excitement of their in-person sales and plans on integrating event-based auctions into their calendar once it is safe to do so. A virtual presence is crucial for opening up the door to international or stay-at-home buyers, while in-person auctions are fun and can change the dynamic and energy of a sale. Using Skeleton to manage both online and in-person components of the auction is the key to success.

For now, though, Palm Beach Modern Auctions is still operating primarily online. With the launch of their new website and streamlined software system through Skeleton, they will be able to better serve their clients both virtually and in person. Keep an eye out for Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ next sale in early 2021, a fine-art based auction that promises to be an international success. 

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