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Richard Watson - Head of Residential Auctions

EG Auction Column: We need to stop talking about tech

I have lived and breathed sale by auction throughout my 17-year career. I’ve seen both boom and bust, and experienced market shift. Having spent so much time in the traditional auction world, it is refreshing to see digital auctions having such a profound impact on the industry today.

However, whilst the headlines are shouting about the proliferation of digital auctions and the industry is wondering whether a traditional, multi-channel or pure digital model is best, I believe that approach is short sighted. The industry needs to talk less about tech as though it were the silver bullet.  Instead what we should be doing is looking at the fundamentals of the auction industry, as well as the vehicle in which the sales are delivered.

The Financial Times is a great example of this. Whilst the number of physical newspapers purchased has significantly decreased, the paper’s readership is booming thanks to its shift towards an online model. The writing remains best in class and the paper is still very much a people business based on a foundation of great journalists and editors – it has simply moved online to provide a more efficient and transparent model capable of reaching a wider audience.

The same principal can be applied to the auction model. Ultimately auctions are businesses set up to sell properties and much like any successful business it is the team, supported by the tech, which holds the key to success. As words like ‘proptech’ and ‘digital transformation’ become continually more prevalent within the industry, it is important not to lose sight of the basics.

Building a successful company model, which can deliver for its clients, doesn’t happen by chance. You need a combination of layers working together. Firstly, you need industry experience, then the support – both by staff but also office software, hardware and infrastructure, and lastly your team needs to have the right attitude. All of this must be combined with a willingness to adapt to the demands of clients.

These fundamentals provide a solid business foundation; it is the vehicle by which you work that provides the differentiator. I remember six years ago walking around London in the pouring rain cursing the lack of taxis.  Now I can get from A to B in any weather with an app on my phone. People forget that Uber itself is a business of people and not simply a digital platform. It is based on the same basic business concept that made black taxis so popular when they were introduced in 1897. The differentiator is Uber’s technology, which provides an easy to use model; transparent, efficient and understanding of its clients’ needs through data collection.  The app is just the way in which it delivers.

The one thing that perhaps Uber doesn’t have is its own expert drivers.  I’m sure we can all agree that in the property industry it would be very hard to compete if you didn’t have a team of experts – no matter where you sit on the digital vs traditional debate. Ultimately, the access to data allows individual surveyors the best opportunity to make better and more informed decisions, but you need the talent in the first place.

At BidX1 we are a property company that uses our proprietary technology to deliver for our clients. The insight we glean from our digital platform is able to support our teams’ 280 years of market knowledge and experience and therefore we are better able to deliver results to our clients.

The world has moved on.  Only ten years ago the chances are we wouldn’t have dreamed that we’d be able to carry the combined experience of a phone, Walkman, television and computer in our pockets. More recently we were told that we would never be able to take auctions onto a digital platform. It is only because, as a company, by putting people first that we have been able to unsettle a market and achieve an 80% success rate at our first auction of the year.

This is why I believe that we should not be talking about technology. We should not be debating digital vs traditional. We should instead be asking what do we need to do to best support our teams of experts via the use of technology to deliver successful results for our clients.

Read the Estates Gazette column here.