Mark Rankin, the Chief Technology Officer for Sotheby's Motorsport (SMS), oversees a pioneering venture in the automotive auction world. SMS, a joint collaboration between Sotheby's and Motorsport Network, has recently introduced a cutting-edge online auction platform designed to bridge the divide between physical and virtual auctions. Last week, Sotheby's Motorsport marked its launch, inviting bidders and sellers alike to experience the new platform.
One of the standout features of the SMS platform is the introduction of the first-ever digital wallet. This innovation ensures robust security for both buyer and seller, safeguarding financial transactions and the integrity of the vehicles involved. In addition, the platform fully digitizes all transactional documentation, streamlining the transfer of title and compliance with regulatory requirements for both parties.
Adding to its distinctiveness, the SM platform also provides an option for proxy or absentee bidding. Unlike conventional auction practices, this feature allows community members to bid more efficiently on single or multiple vehicles, enhancing the overall bidding experience. Shortly after the launch of the SM platform, we had the opportunity to catch up with Rankin to gain insights into what makes this new online auction platform a step above the rest.
Edward Jones - What was the inspiration for Sotheby's Motorsport (SMS)?
Mark Rankin - I have a history of buying cars online. You could say that I’m a glutton for punishment. The experience has always been financially risky and a bit clunky. I remember not long ago; I bought a beautiful Porsche online. I sent my money to someone I’d never met and hoped the car would show up. The seller seemed like a nice guy, but he had a way of only calling once a week or so. I felt like I was always having to chase him. He had my money and had what was going to be my car. Did I make a mistake? Should I have passed on the car? Was I going to lose my money and the car? It was a challenging process. Eventually, I just flew out to pick up the car and drive it back. That too was an issue as the car was not as described. After a case of oil and a roadside fuse box repair, everything worked out, but it was not at all an experience that I could trust.
When we researched it, we found others felt the same way. That’s when Motorsports Network approached Sotheby’s/RM Sotheby’s and the parties decided to offer a service that uses technology to bridge the gap between physical auctions and the digital space — giving buyers and sellers the peace of mind that they have never received from online auctions until now. Sotheby's Motorsport provides that missing experience — a true white glove service. Finally!
EJ - Did your passion for luxury cars aid in the creation of SMS?
MR - There is so much to be passionate about when it comes to cars. From the way the back window on a Ferrari 355 curves around to meet the flying buttresses to the iconic round(ish) headlamps of a 911 — I admire the people who created these works of art and appreciate the ones who own and care for them.
What makes anything great is people. The incredible team we were able to assemble around us — from the partners at Sotheby’s and Motorsport Network to the individuals we’ve been able to recruit, the team has been why we’ve been successful in bringing this to market so quickly with features not seen together in the digital space.
Further, as we build this platform, the passionate people who use it, those same people who care for these cars, are the ones who will make the platform great. They are the ones who will challenge us to continue to push the boundaries and help us build an experience they love.
EJ - How do you ensure the security and privacy of user data, especially in high-value transactions?
MR - I could talk for hours about the layers of encryption and the technology behind the platform, but what’s really impactful is how we used technology as an enabler to deliver four different user experiences based on how people want to use the site. From dreamers to experts to buyers and sellers, we have constructed a system that brings them together on one platform and, if they do decide to transact on our platform, our digital wallet allows the completion of the transaction at no risk to either the buyer or seller.
EJ - Can you describe the key technologies that power the platform, such as real-time bidding or security measures?
MR - First, we constructed the fastest and most secure bidding engine I’ve ever seen. It’s second to none. Next, we added features including one-touch bidding and proxy or absentee bidding; so, you don’t have to be chained to your computer, tablet, or phone. Next, we introduced the industry’s first digital wallet, so money only goes to the seller once the vehicle has been delivered. Further, we never ship the car until we know the buyer’s money has been secured. It’s an incredible platform and one we’re very proud of.
EJ - Where do you see the future of luxury car online auctions going, and how is your company positioning itself to lead in this space?
MR - I still think there is much we can learn from physical auctions like RM Sotheby’s. They have an incredible process, and the customers have an amazing experience when they interact with Sotheby's and RM Sotheby’s. We’re working hard to make the online experience just as safe and enjoyable, and I think that’s a big part of what’s been missing and where we’ll likely see the most change in the industry in the future.
EJ - How have you tailored the platform to cater to the unique needs and expectations of luxury car enthusiasts?
MR - It all starts with a trusted two-sided marketplace. We verify both buyers and sellers and further verify and inspect every car. We also provide professional photography and one of our editors creates a detailed description of every car complete with books, service records, and even award documentation when applicable. This is important to the buyers of these cars but it’s equally as important to the sellers in this category. They approached their ownership differently and it shows in every car. Buyers appreciate this as they know what they’re getting before they commit to buying.
Post-sale, we’re there with you too. For me, when I bought my last car online, the buying was easy but the paperwork, transportation, and the anxiety of sending money to someone I have only interacted with behind a username was…. Well, let’s just say it was downright scary. We remove that fear. We remove that risk. We stand beside our buyers and sellers throughout this and all future transactions.
EJ - How does your platform differentiate itself from competitors in the luxury car auction space?
MR - From the first inspection to the community engagement to the digital wallet — Sotheby's Motorsport has been created to think differently about the digital auction space and it shows. You won’t find a car listed here without a professional inspection or without a real automotive editor who built an accurate description including known flaws. That’s hard for any platform to do but it’s what makes the platform so great. We’re introducing full disclosure in an area that has never had that. what we’re doing is introducing precision to the marketplace allowing both buyers and sellers to communicate in a way that shares the good, the bad, and the… unique. Some cars are incredibly great — we want to highlight that greatness.
It is simply the most trustworthy place to buy and sell that’s ever been created and, with a brand like RM Sotheby’s, the audience in this space expects the best.
EJ - Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers about the exciting world of luxury car online auctions or any upcoming features they should look out for?
MR - The number one question I get when I talk to people about buying and selling a car — online or not — is what the vehicle is worth. The second most often asked question is where I should buy or sell. I think, for a portion of the market, we have the place to buy and sell but I’d tell everyone reading this today to keep a keen eye on what we’re doing as we intend on supporting every phase of the buying and selling process. Our goal is to never have an unmet need from our clients. And that’s a goal our team intends to deliver on.