Startup Spotlight: icollector.com

Online service partners bargains for big profits by partnering with bricks-and-mortar dealers
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

"Going... going... gone"! Gone are the days of the traditional auction room now that icollector.com has arrived, bringing more than 650 traditional auction houses, dealers and galleries into the online world.

Unlike headline-grabbers such as eBay or QXL.com, iCollector acts as a trading platform for arts, antiques and collectibles, making local auctions available all over the world. "We as a company stand behind the goods -- the consumer-to-consumer model can't provide these guarantees as the risk is too high, and it is this that is going to prevent them from moving up to higher value goods that we deal with," says icollector managing director James Corsellis.

techTrader spoke to Corsellis about icollector's mission to redefine the auction industry on-line, and where the site fits into the huge phenomenon that online auctions have become.

If your intention is to take "the antiquated out of antiques", what opportunities does the Internet provide for the auction space?

The business stands on the principle that the collector's market represents a larger sector of the retail market than most realise. We have enabled these people to operate outside of their presupposed sector and appeal to a larger audience. The catalogues that we offer are free, and allow the visitor to place an absentee bid, which the auctioneer then bids on their behalf. This allows people to bid around the world, which has effectively made a local service into an international one.

eBay is now one of the largest e-commerce companies around. Do you aim to be as well known as them in the future?

The main way in which we differentiate ourselves from eBay is through the fact that we are a business-to-consumer offering. We believe that through us the role of the gallery or auctioneer is reinforced. We would hope to grow to the size of eBay in terms of business opportunity, but not in terms of volume. We also offer a larger range of e-commerce formats than eBay are able to provide.

What insight can you give us into the online auction market? Why do you think it has become so popular and lucrative?

I think that the auction market is to be looked at with some degree of scepticism. Auctions have traditionally been used for the disposal of excess inventory. With £30m being spent each year on marketing costs, the auction sector is not as profitable as people have supposed. The greatest success of this market has been in its consumer to consumer aspect.

Online auctions haven't taken off as well in the UK as they have in the US. Why do you think this is? Is the market smaller here?

You have to realise that the auction sites in the UK are still at an early stage of growth. The main difference that exists between the UK and US audience is that in the US you will be far more likely to buy out of state than you will in Europe. The pan-European services are going to be far more difficult to role out, so we need to find a product that everyone will like.

It has been the trend for most Internet companies to target the mass market, whereas icollector seems to be aiming at an audience who want to enjoy the experience more, and spend lots of money at once. What is the future for this kind of market?

In order to guarantee our success in the future, we must partner with key sites in order to increase the volume and value of our audience. We are more interested in looking at the higher value customer who is willing to spend more, as they have a much higher life-time value. We are also looking to establish an audience who collect across a range of areas.

The future of this market is going to rest in the leverage content that we are going to be able to provide in order to promote e-commerce within the auction model. We have just signed a contract with Judith Miller that will provide us with three thousand reference articles a year -- providing this content is going to be critical in driving business to our site. We must focus on developing a niche for the art and antiques market.

Startup Spotlight is a weekly feature on ZDNet UK News and ZDNet techTrader, featuring the bright sparks of the UK's high-tech startup industry. For more of the faces behind the news see the Startup Spotlight archive.

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