Investigation: Auctions booming like never before thanks to return of physical sales

  • Auction houses experiencing record numbers due to return of physical sales
  • Prices and sales figures are both soaring
  • First time conversions also at record levels

Time 5 months ago

Car auctions are experiencing record levels of demand after being boosted by the return of physical sales, experts have told Car Dealer.

Firms have finally been allowed to let punters through the door again in recent times as lockdown measures continue to be eased.

Their return has brought huge spikes in sales across the board, much to the delight of bosses.


G3 Vehicle Auctions says that physical sales are now outperforming online for the first time since the pandemic hit.

In the last three weeks of May, the group sold on average 64 per cent of its vehicles in the hall – comfortably beating the 34 per cent seen online.

The last month has also seen the auction house regularly achieve 100 per cent sales for several vendors.

The success represents a huge vindication for G3, which recently opened a new £12m auction centre.

Matt Dale, co-owner and director of G3, said: ‘It might have been a few months later than planned because of Covid lockdowns, but it feels great to finally see car dealers enjoying our new £12m auction centre.  

‘Demand for used stock is as high as I have ever seen it, so it is not a surprise that dealers are having to change their buying habits yet again to source the stock they need from physical auction events.

Since we had Mike Brewer along to open our new centre a few weeks ago, conversion rates have been exceptionally high online, whilst buyers have been cautious in their return to physical sales. 

‘But now we’re seeing the increased competition for stock drive both our loyal buyers and a whole host of new trade accounts to join us in the halls to purchase stock from the enviable range of vendors we have on offer.

 ‘In a time when many of our auction rivals are vocal in their futures laying with online-only sales, we have bucked the trend and invested heavily in a physical auction centre that will rival anything else on offer in the UK.  

‘We’ve built a reputation for our engaging and popular auction events, so now that it is safe to do so, we invite buyers new and old to visit the site to experience our huge undercover viewing hall and the exciting new rostrum lanes for themselves.’


Elsewhere, Aston Barclay has noted its sales have received a 17 per cent uplift in physical attendance week on week.

Physical buyers are now purchasing 60 per cent more used cars than online buyers when, just a month ago, 100 per cent of Aston Barclay’s sales were coming on the net.

The first month of physical sales also saw an eight percent rise in sale prices, with dealers desperate to get their hands on limited stock.

First time conversions are also at record levels with late and low stock achieving an all-time best of 97 per cent.

Martin Potter, Aston Barclay’s MD-customer, told Car Dealer: ‘More physical buyers have continued to return week on week into the auction halls.

Physical buyers are now purchasing 60 per cent more used cars than online buyers currently

‘This has been as much to engage with fellow buyers and auction staff face-to-face about the fast-moving market as well as to view vehicles prior to auction. 

‘Since the new auction schedule commenced, we have received a 17 per cent uplift in physical attendance week on week.

‘Physical buyers are now purchasing 60 per cent more used cars than online buyers currently – that compares with 100 per cent online just a month earlier.

‘In the first month of dealers re-opening, we saw an eight percent increase in sale prices, as buyers clamoured for the available stock.

Auctioneer on the phone at Historics

‘Since April, vehicles have been reaching record prices, as CAP struggles to keep pace with the market. 

‘Even towards the end of May, vehicles sold through Aston Barclay achieved 102 per cent across all sectors, with fleet stock hitting more than 110 per cent.

‘Even with these high prices, first time conversions have been at record highs, with the late and low stock achieving 97 per cent first time conversion – a figure not previously seen by Aston Barclay before.’

A survey carried out by the auction house found that 84 per cent of buyers wanted to return to halls as soon as possible.

An incredible 97 per cent said they would buy the same amount or more given a choice between online and physical.

‘Vendors have also recognised the benefits of being back in the halls as they are able to answer buyer questions and work with the auctioneer to manage provisional bids and buyer questions in person,’ added Potter.

‘Back in early March, we surveyed our customers to understand the appetite for a return to the auction halls and the feedback was clear – 84 per cent said they wanted to return to the halls as soon as it was safe to. 

‘Of those surveyed, 97 per cent said they would buy the same amount or more given a choice of channels through which to buy. 

‘There was a strong appetite for the choice between physical and online, with the higher mileage and older vehicles attracting a greater desire to see vehicles driven through the auction lanes.’

Despite the booming figures, two of the country’s biggest auction houses are yet to return to physical sales.

BCA nor Manheim have indicated when they will be allowing bidders back into auction halls.

Throughout this year there have even been intense rumours that BCA might never return to physical auctions.

Aston Barclay auction during pandemic

‘There’s a social side to buying at auction’

The increased demand since re-opening has also been seen at high-end classic car auctions.

Silverstone Auctions last month collected £3.8m in its first physical sale in 18 months.

H&H Classics also recently hosted its first physical sale since the pandemic at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

The auction raised a whopping £2.8m and achieved an 80 per cent success rate.

Damian Jones, head of sales at H&H, told Car Dealer: ‘Results and attendance were both even better than expected and we saw some really strong prices.

‘There certainly seemed to be a lot of pent-up demand from buyers.

‘There is a social side to attending a classic car auction and people just seemed really pleased to be seeing some familiar faces.

‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer so it will be interesting to see if that continues.

‘The demand is down to a number of things but people have been sitting around bored for quite some time now!

We continue to be passionate advocates of open-to-public auctions

‘The price of a staycation has probably doubled in that time too, so people may as well spend their money on a classic car.’

One auction house that did retain physical sales throughout the pandemic was Historics.

The Brooklands-based outfit moved their auctions to Ascot Racecourse to allow for social distancing measures to be enforced.

At its latest sale, 500 bidders were allowed into the hall – the largest attendance since Covid hit.

The sale achieved a 90 per cent success rate and bosses say they have always been committed to public auctions.

Mark Perkins, Historics’ managing director, said: ‘Achieving a 90 per cent rate of sale at our open-to-public auction with Covid-19 legislation still in place is a tribute to all the hard work in tricky circumstances, to our loyal supporters and to the robust nature of the classic car market.

‘We continue to be passionate advocates of open-to-public auctions and were thrilled at the tremendous turn-out at both preview days and the sale itself.

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‘The high number of entries selling to those in-hall shows there is a great appetite for a traditional sale.

‘Ours are supported by a thoroughly professional online bidding platform from our partner Bidpath so together, I believe we have the best strategy to suit everyone.

‘And online registrations from 30 countries across all five continents demonstrates that our sales are now truly global events.’

Masked bidder looks over Alpine

Credit: Historics


Jack Williams's avatar

Jack joined the Car Dealer team in 2021 as a staff writer. He previously worked as a national newspaper journalist for BNPS Press Agency. He has provided news and motoring stories for a number of national publications including The Sun, The Times and The Daily Mirror.

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