Published: April 14, 2020
With more and more states mandating “sheltering in place” during the COVID-19 pandemic, auction houses are relying exclusively on online platforms to keep sales on schedule. One of the largest online auction platforms is LiveAuctioneers (www.liveauctioneers.com), which began in 2002 and has a roster of more than 6,000 auction-house partners in 50 countries worldwide. It has auctioned more than 29 million lots. A new limited-time initiative, launched by LiveAuctioneers chief executive officer Phil Michaelson, will donate a portion of LiveAuctioneers’ net revenue to charities supporting COVID-19 response efforts. It was one of the first high-profile organizations in the arts industry to take the lead in raising money for pandemic relief, so Antiques and The Arts Weekly reached out to Michaelson, who has steered LiveAuctioneers since 2014, for his reasons for giving back.
Tell me about this initiative.
Auction houses can not only continue to hold auctions but also help “flatten the curve” by holding sales online so buyers can stay home. We wanted to encourage that, so LiveAuctioneers is donating 80 percent of its proceeds from first-time online purchases to support Meals on Wheels America and the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, for sales taking place before midnight EDT on Thursday, April 30.
When did you start thinking about this?
We’ve been thinking about how to help our partner auctioneers as this has unfolded. Back in early March, we set up a webpage of guidelines for auctioneers to keep auction houses and their communities safe – initially by washing hands, guiding employees to stay home if sick and other similar measures. By mid-March, we were thinking about how to help local businesses safely hold auctions without gathering large groups.
How long did it take to implement?
It was under way within days of our deciding it was something we wanted to do. The program started at midnight EDT on March 20 with a banner message on www.liveauctioneers.com.
Why did you decide to do this?
We view ourselves as an important part of many local communities through our partnerships with small and regional auction houses. We have been communicating with auction houses and view the health of their businesses as an integral part of not only the health of our company, but also our industry. This was our way of supporting the community at large, so it was a nice surprise to see a surge in new bidders that resulted in an ever-greater donation.
Has LiveAuctioneers undertaken similar initiatives before? If so, can you discuss them?
Yes. We have some team members with connections to Puerto Rico, and after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017, LiveAuctioneers launched a company-wide effort to assist residents of the island, many of whom were left without a home or everyday necessities. The team compiled a list of goods most needed by the storm’s victims – from disposable diapers to bottled water – and I informed employees that anything they purchased toward the effort would be matched dollar-for-dollar by LiveAuctioneers. One week later, LiveAuctioneers team members loaded the accumulated goods onto a truck and transported the sizable stockpile to Manhattan’s Javits Center, where a charitable organization arranged for shipment to Puerto Rico.
Proceeds from this benefit Meals on Wheels America and the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund; how did you decide on these two organizations specifically?
I have personal experience with Meals On Wheels, having delivered Thanksgiving dinners to seniors with limited mobility when I was growing up. I thought about that experience and knew it was an organization that could quickly apply funds raised to those most at risk.
LiveAuctioneers partners with auctioneers in more than 50 countries and we wanted to do something for the world at large; the World Health Organization has that global reach.
Are the monies raised split equally between the two organizations?
Yes, the monies will be split equally between those two organizations.
The initiative is intended to apply to the first purchase made by a new client on LiveAuctioneers, on a purchase made through April 30, 2020 Midnight EDT…Might you extend that deadline?
We’re constantly thinking about how to best support auctioneers. I expect us to continue this effort, maybe evolve to something different in the longer run.
What if someone is an existing client on LiveAuctioneers; is there a mechanism where they can participate in this program?
Not at the moment, but I would encourage existing clients to tell a friend, family, tell a local auctioneer who is not online. We always welcome new sellers.
The program has been in place for more than a week; can you say how much money you’ve raised?
In the two weeks since we started doing this, we’ve raised nearly $20,000; we have another four weeks to go so it remains to be seen…but we’re off to a great start.
What has the response been from auction houses? Clients?
We’ve seen an amazing response. We’re seeing auctioneers using this promotion on their social media. They’re able to encourage buyers to stay home in areas that aren’t yet fully shut down. We’ve had a great response on the buyer’s side. We’re seeing record numbers of new buyers. The incentive to bid online generates some proceeds for a good cause and helps keep folks at home.
Are other companies following this example?
When we came up with the idea, I couldn’t find anyone else doing this, but a few other companies have started to, yes. Online commerce outlets are seeing an upswing in activity during this period of sheltering in place and are in a position to give back.
Can you talk briefly about any of the transactions during this period that have qualified for the initiative?
I can. We’ve attracted new winners across categories – from jewelry and furniture to fashion, home décor and coins. One interesting item is this Gucci necklace, which was sold by an auctioneer in Florida prior to the state issuing guidance around shutting down nonessential events and businesses.
-By Madelia Hickman Ring
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