Antiques and collectibles dealers who were blinded by the light of the Internet revolution and traded in their brick-and-mortar spaces at shops and malls for online selling via auction are slowly returning to the very places they bolted from around the turn of the millennium.
That’s the observation, at least, of Tony and Ron, partners who own and operate Antiques USA, a sprawling multi-dealer facility located on U.S. Route 1 in Kennebunk, Maine. The pair have been hearing for a long while that the bloom is off the rose with regard to online selling.
“It’s not something that has directly impacted us, because we are almost always fully tenanted anyway,” said Tony, “but I just hear from some of our dealers – even the ones that have been with us from Day One, more than 15 years ago – that they’ve soured on buying and selling online.”
Ron echoed that sentiment. “We started hearing the early grumblings a few years ago, actually, but it has become much louder just in the last several months. People are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Internet selling experience. Dealers are starting to go back to the tried-and-true selling methods.”
There are several reasons for the trend, the two observed. For one, dealers have not been getting the prices they used to enjoy, say, in 1999 and the early 2000s, when the newness of the Internet had everyone test-driving the new medium and paying top dollar in the process. Those days are over.
“I hear it all the time – ‘I’m not getting the prices I used to when I try to sell online,’” said Tony. “In fact, now I’m actually hearing, ‘I can’t even get anybody to bid on many of my items any more.’ What seemed like a virtual paradise for several years is something entirely different today. Second, the fee structures and other administrative costs attendant to buying and selling online have left many dealers feeling they’re being nickeled and dimed to death.
“That situation has really created a window of opportunity for us to welcome some of our previous dealers back into the fold,” Ron said. “It seems the larger the online auction site is, the more arrogant they can be.”
Then there’s the issue of fraud – not dealer fraud, buyer fraud. “Today, all a buyer has to do is claim they received a fake, or didn’t receive the merchandise at all, or received a damaged shipment,” Tony said, “and they can demand a replacement, so they’re actually getting two for the price of one, or a credit, which they really don’t deserve. Buyer fraud can be a danger to honest, reputable sellers.”
Third, selling online can be a time-consuming pain in the neck for dealers who would rather spend their time in more valuable ways than photographing and posting an item for sale online, having to write flowery descriptive text, and then – if they’re lucky enough to actually sell it – wrap, box and ship the merchandise – always with the fear it will be damaged along the way, or lost in shipment.
“With our dealers, the merchandise is displayed and sold, plain and simple,” Ron remarked. “We try to make the experience as painless as possible, for both buyer and seller. That’s why so many of our dealers have been with us for 10, 15 years or more. It’s low-stress for them.”
Antiques USA has hundreds of dealers, packed into a huge, one-story facility on the main driving route in southern Maine.
Long-distance dealers – from coast to coast and as far away as Canada, England and France – can ship their merchandise to the store, where experienced staff will unpack their items and then carefully display them in well-lit cabinet showcases. There is no charge for this service.
Jon and Martha Madden have been on-site dealers at Antiques USA for 15 years. “We’ve really enjoyed the experience,” they said. “It’s one of the largest antiques centers around, so customers can spend hours shopping. That’s good, because with gas prices being what they are, who wants to drive around from shop to shop, when they can see so much in one place? It’s a very nice place to do business.”
Escalating gas prices probably explain, in part, why some antiques shops have shut down in recent months. And that’s another trend that has led to more dealer interest in Antiques USA. “There are quite a few dealers who were set up in shops that have closed or downsized and have since relocated to Antiques USA,” Ron said. “We put a great value on experienced dealers, particularly those with practical knowledge of antique co-ops.
Tony added, “We will always welcome these dealers with open arms. They turned to us because of our solid reputation and the store’s high traffic generated by our extensive, high-profile advertising.”
A final reason for the shift away from online selling and back to the mall environment may be rooted in common sense. “Buying an antique is, or should be, an up-close and personal experience,” Tony said. “Some things you just want to see and feel for yourself before buying, and antiques are definitely in that category. Buying online does not afford that luxury.”
Antiques USA, known as Maine’s largest antiques superstore, is housed in a massive, 20,000-square-foot building, all on one level. And despite its size, it retains the ambiance of a quaint shop. It’s a place to relax, browse and enjoy.