5 Reasons Why People Don’t Buy Art


It’s helpful information for visual artists to understand the reasons why people don’t buy art

— Unknown

Do you know why people don’t buy art?

As an artist who sells art, you gain fresh insights into the reasons people buy your art. This part is easy because they let you know. You can review your sales history and learn what about your art excites people to buy it from the patterns.

Let’s start with reasons why people buy art:

  • They love it.
  • It makes a perfect gift.
  • They like to collect your work.
  • They trust you or the gallery owner to help them make an intelligent buying decision.
  • It perfectly matches the interior design of a space they are decorating.

It is a valuable idea to develop your research and analysis to go beyond understanding why people buy your art. How is your art purchased? Make a list of where your art sells. Is it online, studio sales, networking, referrals, galleries, juried shows, or fairs?

How to Turn Losers into Winners

When a sale is lost, you have nothing more to lose and lots to gain by asking why it didn’t happen. So any feedback you get is another piece of the puzzle.

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More than once, I’ve followed up on a lost sale or canceled service only to find out it had nothing to do with me or my services. Even better, by reaching out, it started something that evolved into a lasting, mutually beneficial friendship. (File Under: Try Because You Never Know)     

Use your research to guide you to innovative production and marketing decisions.

Look to find the commonalities in your channels. For example, are subject matter, color mixtures, sizes, prices, medium, or other selling factors consistently in individual channels? You will indeed find it a combination of the determining factors.

The point of this exercise is to help you make better decisions about what art to produce for each of the selling channels you use. Channels mean distribution sources such as galleries, shows, publishers, licensors, agents, art consultants, interior designers, etc.

Getting to the real reasons why people don’t buy art… your art… is challenging.

When it comes to why people don’t buy your art, it is harder to determine the real reason. Most times, when you get to a closing situation where you ask them to buy (You are asking them to buy, aren’t you?), and they slip off the hook with a lame excuse (I need to think about it), you have not discovered what is holding them back. (That’s what open-ended questions are for, to uncover real objections.)

Uncovering the real objection leads to more sales.

When a prospect tells you they need to think about making a purchase,  they do not reveal their actual complaint. Instead, it means you may have rushed the sale. You might not have asked them enough open-ended questions to discover their needs and doubts about making a buying decision.

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Or you may have lost a sale because you didn’t know how to sell art with silence.

Five Reasons People Don’t Buy Art!

If you count permutations, there may be millions of reasons why some potential art buyers don’t buy art. So here are some specific suggestions on how to sell art when customers initially balk at closing the deal.

1. Insecurity

They are unsure about their tastes. They may be new to buying art. But, of course, you wouldn’t know unless you asked. But, regardless of their buying status, digging into what they want to do with the piece they are considering will help them make a confident decision.

This situation will not be your desired one call close, which is the case for most fine art sales. But, likely, you need more information about the space where the art will hang or be displayed.

My art marketing broadcast partner, Jason Horejs, posted how Photoshop helped sell a $5,000 piece of art from his Xanadu Gallery. His persistence in helping the buyer and a willingness in the artist’s role to create a painting based on the subject matter, size and space considerations, and Jason’s innovative use of technology were the reasons for getting the sale.

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2. Assurance

They don’t know if your art is worth what you are charging. But, as with some other points, there is a crossover between not buying and the result. So this point is one of them. In part, buyer assurance happens when marketing, presentation, appearance, and demeanor set the table.

If your prospects are new to your work, they need to be educated with comparisons to sale prices of similar artists, your bio, with your sales history. Working this information into the conversation with your buyer, or even better, having your targeted marketing make these points for you, will work to take away this possible reason not to buy your art.

3. Money

They cannot afford your art. This situation can be a question of unfocused marketing. If you cast a marketing net too broad, you will waste time attempting to sell art to those who cannot afford it. If that is the case, fix it immediately. In the buying process, you subtly need to learn enough about your prospect to determine if a sale is possible or if you are wasting your time. Have they made other fine art purchases? Do they collect art? Where do they intend to display the piece? Part of your job is to sort through those not ready to buy and keep them in the sales funnel while removing those who are not prospects for it.

You can offer a layaway plan if a buyer wants to own the piece. For example, you might negotiate a first-time buyer discount. However, if your work is in the print market, offer one as an alternative. As an alternative, try providing a commission for a smaller, more affordable piece.

4. Confusion

They don’t understand your pricing model. If you sell through multiple distribution channels and do not have uniform prices on similar artworks, you will confuse your buyers about your work’s actual cost and value. For example, are your prices fluctuating in ways that there seems no logic to the amount? For instance, how can you price four times more for a piece that is only 25% larger than other works in your portfolio?

In addition to pricing logic problems, lack of focus or lack of marketing leads to confusion and uncertainty. Your artwork, your pricing, your marketing, and your presentation all need to be in harmony. Your goal is to remove all doubt from your buyers before a closing situation occurs.

5. Remorse

Post-cognitive dissonance is the fancy way to describe the sense of regret buyers often have after they have made a purchase. There are situations where customers anticipate remorse, and it kills a deal even though part of them wants to own your work. So let’s call it pre-cognitive dissonance. You can answer this in advance by offering a return policy. Maybe it is 90 days with return shipping not included and with the art in the same condition as when it was sold.

Consider using a buyback policy where you agree to take the work back as part of a payment for a new, more expensive piece. For example, you might not want to publish such a policy, but keep in mind for situations where it will help you get the work sold today. For example, you could use a sliding scale with a gradually lower percentage over time.

Leasing art is a way to get your work in the market. And some artists use a lease-to-own policy towards the total price where a specified percentage of the monthly or annual contract would be used to purchase the piece.

Information is power when you use it wisely.

As a small business owner, you need as much information as possible about why your work sells and doesn’t. The wisdom you gain from instituting formal policies and procedures to acquire this knowledge significantly impacts your art career success.

The more you align the work you want to make with buyers who wish to buy it, the more you will have an enjoyable and rewarding art career.

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.


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