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The Digital Revolution

The auction world is increasingly moving online, partially out of necessity due to the coronavirus pandemic and partially to connect with modern consumers who appreciate the convenience of virtual browsing and shopping. Sarah Stoltzfus from Morphy Auctions discusses integrating new digital marketing techniques into the more traditional sector of antiques and collectables, and how they stay connected with previous buyers while reaching out to new collectors.

Gaudin 125 key dance organ. Image © Morphy Auctions

Located in Denver, Pennsylvania, Morphy Auctions is a full-service antique auction company specialising in a range of different divisions. With sales dedicated to toys and general collectables, firearms, militaria, coin-operated machines and gambling, advertising, and fine and decorative arts, they attract a wide variety of bidders and are always looking to expand into new, successful categories. Their diverse offerings means they have a broad clientele, and tracking different demographics along with sales data is invaluable when it comes to creating targeted marketing campaigns to entice buyers and promote their auctions.

Sarah Stoltzfus is the Director of Marketing for Morphy Auctions, and oversees all advertising, marketing and social media promotion as well the production schedule for the company. Since the antiques trade is a relatively traditional sector, she relies on physical trade publications and print media as well as digital platforms when organising campaigns and contacting potential buyers. Morphy Auctions still creates and sends out a physical catalogue for each auction, which ensures that buyers who might miss a digital campaign will still be informed about upcoming sales.

This range of media does make it more challenging to calculate return on investment, because customers find out about sales in a variety of ways. Surveying bidders is an effective way to see how print campaigns performed, while digital software reports make it easy to see how users ended up on their site. The right software also makes it possible to run reports to see underbidders as well as users who signed up but didn’t bid, so Sarah can target people in their areas of interest and let them know about upcoming sales and items they may like. Proactively identifying customers and their areas of interest is key to nurturing client relationships and maintaining strong connections with existing buyers. While some divisions, like antique toys, mainly attract existing bidders, Morphy Auctions receives spikes of new bidders when they introduce new genres of items. A recent sale that included collectable sneakers, a first for the auction house, attracted many new users, proving that diversifying their offerings helped to draw different demographics into their customer base.

Morphy Auctions runs the entire auction process from A to Z in-house, including picking up items, creating a virtual and physical catalogue, executing the auction on their own bidding platform, Morphy Live, and shipping items to buyers. Because they are a unique auction house with specialised needs, they needed software that could keep up. Morphy Auctions started working with Simple Auction Site six years ago, and worked closely their team to create a system that could handle everything from billing that included individual state taxes and shipping quotes to data collection for CRM purposes. At the time there was no other software with such diverse capabilities, and Morphy Auctions’ input helped build Simple Auction Site into the platform it is today.

Like all auction houses, Morphy Auctions had to adjust the way they did business when the pandemic hit in early 2020. They ran one auction without any live attendance, but luckily were able to offer small in-person auctions with reserved seating to work within their state’s set guidelines. They saw an influx in online bidding, with newer bidders searching online and using social media, which created a larger digital demographic than they had ever had before. More bidders took advantage of online options like the zoom photography feature that Morphy Auctions includes in their listings, which allows users to enlarge a photo to see minute details of an item, mimicking a preview experience from the comfort of home. They also had an increase in existing bidders who were interested in participating in online auctions, so they ran tutorial sessions to teach the ins and outs of virtual registering and bidding to help clients bridge the gap between online and in-house bidding experiences.

While in-house attendance at auctions is beginning to pick up, Morphy Auctions plans to keep many of the digital features they implemented during the pandemic. One extremely popular change was enabling a webcast of live auctions to appear in the bidding section online, so that buyers at home can see and hear the action on the auction floor. The live stream is not only more fun to watch than prices ticking upwards on a screen, but it also helps educate buyers as to where bids are coming from. This transparency gives bidders a sense of comfort, and helps fulfill Morphy Auctions’ goal of operating with honesty and integrity. Going forward, Morphy Auctions plans to utilise both live and virtual experiences along with physical and digital marketing to create strong, lasting relationships with buyers and collectors.


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