As a 250-year-old retailer, Christie’s Auction House is still building its online auction presence. But the pandemic proved online is key to its growth. Samantha Margolis, Christie’s vice president and digital marketing director, chats with Digital Commerce 360 about how it’s using AI to find its new online audience, as well as its traditional live auction audience.

Founded in 1766, Christie’s Auction House sells fine art, such as paintings, sculptures and ceramics, and other goods both through live auctions and online auctions. The move to online auctions happened in 2011 but didn’t start ramping up until 2013 when it held 51 online-only auctions. Since then, sales from online-only auctions have grown, especially with the new shopping behaviors caused by the pandemic.

During the first four months of 2020, Christie’s online sales increased by 120% year over year, the company said in a July 2020 conference call. And in April, online sales grew 49% compared with February.

Christie’s even found new consumers trying out online auctions during the first part of 2020. 32% of bidders were new to Christie’s—27% of whom already participated in traditional auctions, but were purchasing online for the first time, according to the conference call.

To drive both new and traditional auction customers to Christies.com, the auction retailer added artificial intelligence to its arsenal. Digital Commerce 360 chatted with Samantha Margolis, Christie’s vice president and digital marketing director, about how it’s using AI.

Samantha Margolis, vice president and digital marketing director, Christie’s Auction House

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Digital Commerce 360: Why did you decide to add an AI element to your business? 

Samantha Margolis: When Christie’s began regularly hosting online auctions, we saw that these auctions were successful at bringing in new clients to our 250-year-old business and wanted to find more ways to reach prospective clients and knew that an AI element would be the most effective way to do this.

DC360: How is Christies.com using AI? 

Margolis: As a digital marketer, using AI is a critical part of our strategy. Having a strong AI element allows us to target audiences as opposed to publishers. My goal is always quality over quantity, and by using AI, we can run highly targeted campaigns focused on people who are the most likely to engage with our business.

We started working with Quantcast in 2014. [Editor’s note: Quantcast is an artificial intelligence platform for brands to target their customers and audience.] Quantcast’s AI and machine-learning engine helps us to learn more about the Christie’s audience and their interests and behaviors. The online audience is vast and ever-changing. Only AI has the power to understand and identify patterns in data at this scale. The insights it generates support everything from our sales calendar to social media targeting.

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In addition to leveraging Quantcast in digital marketing, we deploy AI across our marketing channels such as our CRM [customer relationship management] systems, emails and website.

DC360: What are the benefits and challenges of adding this technology? 

Margolis: There are countless benefits to using AI in digital marketing. I don’t think that any business can afford to not use it to some degree. Quantcast’s AI engine allows us to create highly targeted and personalized marketing approaches to every individual connecting them with the objects and auctions that they are most likely to love.

The biggest challenges are explaining the technology and its benefits internally. Every object we offer is unique and one-to-one relationships are incredibly important to our business. The scale and number of data points feeding AI models was a new concept for many in the business. While initially challenging, our internal stakeholders have certainly embraced it now.

AI allows retailers to target the right person with the right message at the right time. You can bring personal and engaging experiences to new and existing customers at scale.

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DC360: What are some of the results you’ve seen from it? 

Margolis: We’ve been able to strategically scale our digital marketing campaigns with highly targeted campaigns attracting new clients and reducing our cost-per-action.

DC360: Do you plan to add other site features in the future?

Margolis: As the digital marketing ecosystem is quickly changing, it will be critical that we implement other features to ensure that we can continue to implement efficient campaigns.

We are exploring new ways to refine our AI models and make them even more effective. We are constantly finding new applications to measure data and learning more about our audience.

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