Auction sales soared to a record high in 2021, and we set out to discover the reasons behind this impressive boom. From millennials buying retro to a rise in demand for luxury fashion accessories, these are the top trends we uncovered.
Although 2021 was anything but normal, the auction market experienced a banner year. Barnebys recently released Changing Trends in Global Auction Markets, a report which explores the reasons behind trends like more younger users shopping at auction and the popularity of second-hand luxury items. Here are some of the key takeaways.
Millennials going retro
Younger shoppers came to the foreground in 2021, and high net-worth millennials were some of the biggest spenders at auction. Millennials also made up 43% of the users visiting Barnebys, an increase which shows that this generation is more interested in purchasing items at auction and is also more willing to use digital platforms like Barnebys. Somewhat ironically, these younger users were particularly interested in buying retro items. Collectibles like Pokémon cards and vinyl records were hugely popular, mainly because of their nostalgic appeal. The pandemic created uncertainty for everyone, and these types of items provide both comfort and a refreshingly analogue source of entertainment.
An environmentally-friendly outlook
Eco-conscious millennials appreciated auctions as a sustainable alternative to buying new items, a sentiment also echoed by Gen Z buyers – a 2019 Forbes report found that 62% of Gen Zs prefer to buy sustainable products. While manufacturing new items creates waste and pollution, auctions provide a chance at a new life for second-hand pieces. Many well-crafted designer items like handbags and watches last a lifetime anyway, so well-preserved pieces are just as good used as they are new.
Going for luxury items
Luxury items like fine jewelry, watches and handbags were some of the most-searched items on Barnebys in 2021. Many people had extra disposable income from not traveling or going out as much during the pandemic, and auctions provided a safe and convenient way to get a shopping fix. Items like diamonds and limited-edition designer handbags also accrue in value, and since many people choose to invest in hard assets during uncertain times they became a popular alternative investment during the pandemic. This may have contributed to the rise of new collectors: Sotheby’s noted in a year-end report that 50% of their watch buyers in 2020 were new to the category. Rolexes was one of the top-searched brands on Barnebys in 2021 and saw a 50% increase in traffic in Spain, an 84% increase in Italy and an astounding 701% increase in France.
Buyers also chose to buy luxury items at auction because of cost and quicker gratification. While a limited-edition Prada bag will almost certainly achieve a higher price at auction than it did retail, something like a standard Chanel flap purse that’s still in production will be less expensive second-hand and still in excellent condition. Designer brands are also famous for having fantastically long waiting lists – qualified buyers have been rumored to wait up to three years to receive a new Rolex Daytona. Although buying at auction isn’t as quick as ordering from Amazon, it’s still a much faster process than braving the waiting list for an in-demand brand. There’s also the bonus of a huge selection, such as discontinued or limited-run products that are no longer available in stores.
Redecorating with second-hand furniture
Since intermittent lockdowns forced people to stay home more than ever before, many people took the opportunity to refurbish and redecorate or create new spaces like home offices. Used furniture and décor were popular categories over the year, and they’re a sustainable and unique alternative to buying new items. Retro is in, and searches for ‘vintage’ items increased by 31% across all Barnebys markets globally in 2021. While some buyers preferred mint-condition antiques, others sought out inexpensive pieces that needed a little TLC. Many people had to discover new at-home hobbies, and refurbishing used furniture and doing DIY projects became a favored pastime.