Taking art online

Taking art online

Wall Hop’s cloud-based business is making the art world far more accessible to buyers and sellers alike.

The art world has never been known for its customer service. Unless you happen to come across something that piques your taste and pocketbook, collecting art – especially contemporary art – has always been a game of luck and happenstance.

“I remember when I started collecting, I had a budget in mind, about $2,000, but I didn’t know what I wanted,” says Rob Green, co-founder of Toronto-based Wall Hop. Green figured he would “know it when I saw it,” but after calling upward of 40 galleries, he felt flustered and intimidated. “Nobody wanted to share photos or prices; at best, I could view by appointment,” he says. It was like trying to access a private club that didn’t really want his business.

There had to be a better, less time-consuming way to purchase art, one that fused the taste and touch of a gallery curator with the customer service and ease, not to mention e-commerce capabilities, of the cloud, he thought. And that’s how Wall Hop was born.

Launched in January 2015 by Green and fellow co-founders Alan Lok and Jason Salzman, Wall Hop is an online contemporary art gallery. The site showcases more than 70 contemporary artists, from Canada and abroad, working in mediums ranging from paint to digital to photography. You can browse by colour, medium, size, price and subject. The site also includes useful articles on hanging and collecting art, as well as in-the-studio artist profiles and essays.

They called the company Wall Hop because “art appreciation is more than just hanging something on a wall,” says Green. “It’s about making it accessible to everyone, anywhere.” Likewise, the site helps expose artists to potential buyers they might not otherwise have encountered, from markets near and far. (Like most gallery-artist relationships, Wall Hop earns a commission on each sale.)

By framing the company as a cloud-based business, Wall Hop is able to instantly track its entire inventory and better serve its international customer base through seamless e-commerce capabilities. “It’s also an inexpensive way to build your business,” says Green. “As we grow or our needs change, the cloud can instantly adjust. There’s no need to rebuild or break the bank on capital expenditures.”

Likewise, its e-commerce platform – it uses WooCommerce – allows it to link its offering with online affiliates such as Amazon Art, and also track how people use the site, what they click on and other key performance indicators. And it’s working. Since launch, Green says Web traffic has doubled month-over-month – it’s now sitting around 30,000 unique visitors per month. While he wouldn’t provide sales figures, he did say conversion rates are high.

Of course, Wall Hop isn’t the only player in the online art game. The digital democratization of art is a growing trend. According to international art-trade authority Hiscox, the value of the online art market rose to an estimated US$2.6-billion in 2014, from US$1.6-billion a year prior. It now accounts for about 5 per cent of the global art market, and Hiscox expects its worth to rise to US$9-billion by 2019.

Green, though, says his site is different from many others. “There are lots of places you can go to buy art online,” he says. “The difference is, most of these places are simple listing sites, and so you end up with a wide but shallow net. We’re not just curators, we’re teaching people about artists and art. We’re showing people how to buy and store art. This is art appreciation: the democratization of art.”

- Jay Somerset / Photograph by: Reynard Li