Sponsored By
Convelio
Sponsored By
Convelio

An E-commerce Approach to Fine Art Shipping

Convelio co-founder Edouard Gouin on the impact of technology on the artworld, modernising shipping and leading a logistics company through the pandemic

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BY Yannick Demoustier AND Edouard Gouin in Collaborations | 30 SEP 20

To the outsider, how art is moved around can seem as mysterious as art itself. Whether the packing fragile paintings or the shipping of mammoth statues, the complexities of art logistics have historically served to justify opaque pricing – sustained by a market where the players are few and business often hinges on long standing relations.

This is the situation Edouard Gouin and Clément Ouizille were inspired to revolutionize when they founded Convelio in 2017. Seeking to modernize fine art logistics, they developed a proprietary algorithm to generate instant and competitive quotes to art galleries, auction houses, art fairs and other marketplaces. With offices in Paris, London and New York, Convelio now ships antiques and works for over 1,000 clients across the globe. 

The company’s ambition to bring the art market fits with the times: the Global Art Market Report recently published for Art Basel in collaboration with Arts Economics found the share of online sales grew to 37% of all transactions in the first half of 2020, compared to just 10% in 2019.  

Convelio cofounder Edouardo Gouin

Yannick Demoustier: How did you come up with the idea for Convelio?

Edouard Gouin: Clément and I met when we were working for an e-commerce company before we left to work in the art industry. We had noticed that art shipping was inefficient. In e-commerce, it is simple: you contact a carrier – say UPS or FedEx - compare quotes and then select the best rate. In the art world, this option just did not exist.

Instead, it was a localized market, with only a handful of companies able to handle high-value items per region. So, if a UK based fine art shipping company needed to ship to, let’s say, New York, they would rely on their US counterparts to process customs, last-mile delivery and installation etc.. This meant competitors were also clients, everyone was trying not to step on each other's toes, and so the whole process became very expensive. We believed that a consolidated option would be a strong addition to the market. We could not find one, so we created one.

YD: How do you build the trust needed to gain acceptance in such a specialist industry? Was there any pushback at first?

EG: Yes, it has not been easy. One major pushback we faced was clients questioning our ability to manage the shipping of artworks with special packing requirements - but these are our favourite challenges! You can learn so much about shipping when you are tasked with transporting a seven tonne statue across continents. This is shipping: it is complex and there are challenges - but there are always solutions.

The real breakthrough moment was when we realised clients were coming back to place more orders. In the first month of the company’s existence, we only had five orders, but in the second month, we reached 36! At the time we were working mainly with antiques dealers and with each delivery, came more orders. Then a client recommended us to a leading e-commerce marketplace for antiques and fine art. This helped us increase our volumes. We negotiated better rates with suppliers and became even more competitive. It also meant that we started transporting more fine art, which is the core part of our business now.

YD: Practically, what does Convelio offer to the individual client or consumer?  

EG: From the Convelio platform you can instantly generate shipping prices to all the main destinations worldwide. As long as the pick up is in Europe, you are able to get instant quotes anywhere. In two weeks we are rolling this out to intra-US, meaning you can get instant quotes for U.S. pick up and delivery, and by the end of the year this will also be available from the U.S to the rest of the world.  Our algorithm also assembles a set of trusted partners, so you can book everything right away. Partners are determined by the typology of the work, as well as the pick-up and delivery locations. Our technology allows us to be significantly more efficient, detail-orientated and economical - savings that we can pass onto our clients.

YD: How has COVID-19 affected the company?

EG: This has been the biggest challenge for Convelio, and personally one of the most challenging periods in my working life to date. During the pandemic, health and safety concerns remained our primary focus - for our staff, but also for our network of clients and shippers. We focused our efforts on making sure that we had the proper regulations in place. We are lucky that our team was able to be agile and could easily transition to work remotely. 

Many of our clients have a more traditional format and during this period, we found we were having a lot of conversations with them about how to digitize their business models. In fact, we have been putting together a resource centre to support our clients through this change-- it will be launched next month, so keep an eye out for that!

YD: Do you believe the pandemic has affected the market in a permanent way?

EG: I think one of the most interesting effects of the pandemic is a heightened awareness of the importance of being digital. We work with a leading auction house business which is over 200 years old and is taking radical steps in renewing their website with e-commerce functions. It is really inspiring to see our clients are instigating change to give a new lease of life to their existing business models. 

YD: How does the growing volume of online transactions affect your long term plans?

EG: We have always seen a huge potential in the online art market. The audience tends to be younger and more tech-savvy, meaning they expect a certain online buying experience. We spotted an opportunity to offer an API (Application Programming Interface) which will equip any art gallery, auction house or online platform with the ability to display shipping costs at checkout. Previously, works had to be purchased before shipping was priced up, now with our API you can get the full cost upfront, book and pay for everything in one transaction.

YD: What are your own tastes in art?

EG: I didn’t study art history but I have always had an interest in the subject. A Convelio is a company at the intersection of art and technology, it may come as no surprise that my favourite artworks play with technology in an interesting way. That ranges from early photography to Ian Chen, Pierre Huyghe, Christian Marclay and Teamlab.

Find out more at Convelio.com

Yannick Demoustier is a freelance journalist, based in London, UK

Edouard Gouin is the co-founder of Convelio, based in London, UK

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