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Updated: 1st Feb 2021
Selling artwork during the coronavirus lockdown has become quite a challenge for many artists. This is especially so for those who do not currently display their available work online. This article will provide suggestions to help artists to continue selling during this uncertain time. We will provide links to useful resources, including online sales platforms, online packaging supplies and courier companies. You’ll find tips for handling ‘contactless’ payments to maintain your, and the customer’s, safety. Online selling might be a new experience for many artists and we hope this information helps to make the transition a little easier.
Physical events, such as exhibitions, fairs and open studios, will hopefully be able to go ahead this year once the lockdown is over. April and October is especially a busy time for open studio art trails. Many were cancelled last year and some operated as a virtual festival instead. These organised annual events take place in many counties across the UK, giving artists the opportunity to welcome visitors into their homes and studios. Many artists rely on these events to provide them with their main income for the year. Whist it is hoped that the lockdown may start to ease in March, there is still a lot of uncertainty as to when physical showings of work will go ahead. There are reasonable concerns that fewer visitors will attend if organisers have to rush publicity of the event once the lockdown has been lifted. Events that are currently scheduled to take place in spring and early summer are scaling back their usual publicity. Especially affected are the printed copies of the open house art trail booklets. Libraries, village halls, gift shops and other high street businesses, which often help distribute the literature, are closed and unable to do so currently.
For artists who sell work in high street galleries, sales may still be impacted this year as galleries are still closed. Although many have continued to operate online, sales will likely be fewer. When allowed to open their doors again, galleries may still be required to limit the number of people allowed in at a time. This may deter potential buyers until non-essential businesses can operate completely normally once more.
Exhibitions, either organised by galleries, art societies or individual artists, will likely be fewer this year. After several lockdowns and many cancelled shows, there will be tight competition between artists to get spaces in exhibitions or grab the best venues.
Selling artwork during the coronavirus lockdown is still possible. Many small business retailers, forced to close during the lockdown, are now setting up online shops or listing their stock on online marketplaces. In this way they can follow government rules by staying at home, whilst continuing their business. Artists likewise still have opportunities to make sales online and could also use this time to publicise their work and increase exposure to improve their sales after the lockdown is lifted. For artists who don’t currently have their work displayed anywhere online, this is the first step. Here are several ways to move to online selling and promotion:
Self-build websites are becoming very popular platforms for simple but professional looking sites. A shopping cart function can easily be incorporated to allow buyers to purchase your art online. You will need to display clear terms and conditions, including information about payment, delivery, refund and returns, and you will need to provide full contact details. You can find templates for writing your T&Cs online. A good source for document templates is SEQ Legal.
You will need to pay yearly web hosting fees, which can be as little as £50 per year, but usually more than £100 per year for eCommerce websites. In order to take payments online you’ll need to use an online payment solution, such as PayPal, which will include commission fees for each transaction (a nominal fee of a few percent), or for more advanced options a monthly fee as well. However, you must not be under the false impression that once the site is set up, visitors will come flocking in. You will unlikely receive any genuine organic search traffic (i.e. visits to your website via keyword searches in search engines such as Google), due to huge competition from thousands of other artists’ websites, unless your art and the keywords you use to describe it are extremely niche, or your name as an artist is well known and likely to be searched for. In the short term, you will need to work at directing potential customers to your website:
Online galleries provide an established and broad marketplace for artists to display their work. A good online gallery will invest a lot of time and effort into promoting their website in what is now a hugely competitive market. Most online galleries charge a commission fee and therefore handle the sale themselves to ensure they receive their cut. The artist is then usually requested to send the artwork direct to the buyer or may instead be required to send it to the website owner first. You’ll find more details below on how to package and arrange delivery of your artwork. Online galleries are a great option to help with selling your artwork during the coronavirus lockdown as your work can be quickly listed and an audience is already established.
Be mindful of the fact that most online art galleries offer a returns policy, meaning that the artwork could be returned if the customer is not happy with it or changes their mind. You will need to check with the gallery whether you, the gallery or the buyer are responsible for return postage costs.
Other online galleries, such as Acquire Art, take no commission and charge a small membership fee instead. Acquire Art promotes artists’ work and provides a quick and simple way for artists to get their work viewed online whilst allowing them to continue to sell however and wherever they usually sell. Acquire Art does not offer a shopping cart facility for buyers to pay online as ordinarily the artist would direct the buyer to another site where they can do so instead (such as the artist’s own online shop or a marketplace such as eBay or Etsy) or arrange for the work to be collected in person from their home studio. At this present time, the latter is not advisable. If the artist’s work is not available elsewhere online then they can instead use an online payment system, such as Paypal Invoicing or QuickBooks. See below for information on how to organise payment collections when ‘distance selling’.
Well known marketplaces will have a large established client base. Examples include eBay and Etsy. EBay is a huge one-stop-shop so it shouldn’t be too surprising that they do have a large art section and art lovers will find a great selection of original art here. Etsy is specifically a hand-made crafts marketplace and is now a familiar name. Commission charges are relatively small compared to high street galleries – only a few percent of the item value. The artist will need to organise the delivery of their work direct to the buyer. Online marketplaces generally charge listing fees and selling fees and in addition there may be payment processing fees as well. Ebay and Etsy have a dispute handling process to help resolve issues regarding non-delivery, items not as described and damaged goods etc. Seller protection is also available for those using PayPal with eBay. Both eBay and Etsy are great for artists wishing to sell art online and handle payment transactions easily and safely. There are no set up costs or a complicated application & approval process, which makes online marketplaces a good choice for selling artwork during the coronavirus lockdown.
Your home or studio should remain shut to visitors during the lockdown. Allowing visitors would be a contravention of the lockdown rules. The visitors would be leaving their home for a reason other than the permissible reasons set out by the government (see details here). You would unlikely be able to safely maintain social distancing by inviting people into your home or studio. The best option is to try and defer collections, or any deliveries made by yourself, until after the lockdown period. You should update your terms on your website or any listings on online marketplaces, to reflect changes to your usual terms in view of the current situation. By whatever means you sell, try to make these terms clear to buyers before they commit to purchase the piece. It is important when selling artwork during the coronavirus lockdown to avoid contact with anyone outside your home wherever possible.
If you wish to offer delivery during the lockdown period, couriers are currently your best choice. All couriers have now been instructed on how to maintain the safety of customers and their own drivers by practicing good hygiene and offering contactless deliveries. Be aware that most couriers do not offer insurance for handling fine art, including prints. Paintings and canvas prints are commonly on the excluded items list of most courier companies, which means you send them at your own risk. One of the more affordable options is Hermes, depending on the size and weight of the package. Hermes will offer to collect from your home and avoids you having to go out specially to a post office or parcel drop off point. For more valuable pieces, you may want to use a specialist courier company that insures against loss or damage to fine art. There are relatively few options to choose from and they will cost that bit extra. Some operate only in specific locations in the UK but one option for a nationwide delivery service is Pack & Send. Rather than receiving an immediate price online, you’ll receive a quote by email based on details you provide.
When sending artwork with a courier make sure payment for your work has been received successfully first and package your artwork securely to avoid the likelihood of damage in transit (see more details below). Try and defer delivery until after the lockdown if possible and otherwise offer for buyers to delay returning the item should they not wish to keep it. This helps to decrease the burden on delivery drivers during the Covid-19 situation and help ensure that essential goods can arrive in good time. Always request a signature with any valuable item but be aware that at present courier drivers currently have approval to confirm receipt on behalf of the customer, with their permission. This is especially important if the customer is self-isolating.
Public Health England have stated that people are not at increased risk of contracting the virus from receiving parcels as it doesn’t survive long on non-metallic surfaces, such as cardboard. Practise good hygiene always, and especially while selling artwork during the coronavirus lockdown, by washing your hands before handling your artwork and packaging it.
Be sure to package the items carefully and include everything the buyer expects to receive. If you have indicated the price for your artwork includes a frame or mount then these must be included with the delivery, or otherwise you should renegotiate the price with the buyer.
A safer and cheaper way to send artwork on paper or canvas is rolled up in postal tubes. These tubes are strong and resilient to damage. By sending artwork unframed this greatly reduces the weight and size of the parcel and reduces the delivery cost and likelihood of damage. Stretched canvases can be removed from the wooden stretcher, sent in a postal tube and re-stretched by the buyer. Do ensure the buyer knows this is how the artwork will be sent before they pay, as the cost of getting artwork stretched and/or framed can be quite significant. The customer may also be unable to get their new purchase framed professionally until after the lockdown.
If sending the artwork complete with stretcher or frame, or for any 3D or sculptural items, use plenty of padding and a thick cardboard box or wooden panel casing.
You can still order packaging supplies online, during the lockdown. One option is Rajapack which provides a large range of packaging supplies, including biodegradable loose fill options.
There are various methods of arranging ‘contactless’ payment to help you with selling your artwork during the coronavirus lockdown:
Never send or release your artwork without payment having been received first.
You should supply terms and conditions to the customer before the transaction is complete. Terms can be displayed on your website if you have one, or you can provide the details in an email communication. Sometimes this can be a relatively brief but concise statement – it doesn’t need to be formal but does need to be clear so that there is no misunderstanding. Your terms should outline a return period, if returns are accepted at all. You should detail who will pay what in the event of a return (i.e. in which circumstances will you pay the return postage of the item; will you expect the customer to arrange a courier and will you stipulate how the artwork is to be returned, such as packaging; insuring the item; returning the item in a particular time frame etc).
You will need to ensure the customer has your full contact details in the event there is a problem with the artwork upon delivery, such as being damaged in transit by the courier. Supplying false information is fraudulent and contravenes the customer’s rights.
You should supply the customer with a receipt for the transaction. This is the customer’s assurance that the transaction took place and payment was made. You can buy paper receipts online from stationers and packaging suppliers, which you can send with the artwork or in a separate envelope. Or you can create your own on your computer to print out or email. Always retain a copy for your own accounts.
Don’t accept a cheque, or banker’s draft, from someone unless you know and trust them, or at least make sure the cheque has cleared before releasing any goods. Be especially cautious when accepting a high-value cheque.
If you do accept a cheque, pay it in promptly – if you leave it longer than six months there is a possibility that the cheque will be returned unpaid.
Be aware that until a cheque has been “cleared for fate” at the end of the 6th day after you have paid the cheque in to your account, there is a risk that the money could be reclaimed if the cheque turns out to be stolen, fraudulently altered or counterfeit.
It is safer to ask for payment for high-value items to be made by other means – an internet or phone banking payment or a CHAPS payment. There is a charge for a CHAPS payment, but it is a guaranteed same-day value payment.
Be aware that a banker’s draft or building society cheque is not necessarily safe from fraud. They can be stolen or altered like any other cheque, and if altered, stolen or counterfeit they will not be honoured. If you receive a banker’s draft in payment for goods you should wait until you have certainty of fate at the end of the 6th working day after you’ve paid the cheque into your account before releasing the goods. If you’re not sure when day 6 has passed you can check with your bank.
If the artwork is an original, you might consider supplying a certificate of authenticity, which certifies that the artwork is an original piece. It can also be used to offer care information on how to look after the artwork. See our ‘Certificate of Authenticity Guide’
Be careful about what information you offer people. If someone contacts you asking for you to validate yourself as a genuine trustworthy seller be careful you do not give too much away. A prospective buyer does not need to know your date of birth, previous addresses or any financial information. If selling the art directly yourself, your name, trading address and a contact telephone number or email address will need to be provided during your communications with the buyer. These details should also be provided on invoices you produce. No more than this should be necessary. If you accept payment by bank transfer then you’ll need to provide your sort code and account number, but no other financial data will be necessary and you should be suspicious of anyone asking for more data than is necessary to carry out the transaction. It may seem obvious to not part with personal information that isn’t necessary for the sale, but it can be easy to let your guard down for a second when put on the spot. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity fraud you need to tell the relevant authority, which might depend on what data you feel has been stolen and how it might have been used. If you’re not sure who to call first, you can contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 who will be able to advise.
Never ask for financial details from your customers by email. This information might not be encrypted and could be intercepted and stolen. You have a duty to protect the personal data of any customers you deal with and it is important that you only record personal data if it’s necessary (for your accounts, for example) and only keep them for as long as necessary. This allows greater safety and security for the buyer and reduced liability for yourself. You can find out everything you need to know about data protection from the ICO (Information Commissioners Office)
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