How auctions are taking place while respecting social distancing

Covid-19 update: Following the prime minister's statement on Sunday May 10, auction house premises in the UK remain temporarily closed to the public. However, an increasing number of firms are running auctions online successfully - and safely - with no bidders present in the room.

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Whittons staged an auction which indicated how auctioneers are adapting to government guidance on social distancing.

To do this they have changed the way they operate, taking steps including:

Changing the format of their auctions

No bidders are allowed 'in the room' (meaning, on the premises). Instead, sales are now typically held as 'live online only' whereby bidding takes place online, usually accompanied by telephone and commission bidding.

The auctioneer can operate such a sale remotely. Some, for example, have broadcast their auction from their front room - with no bidders present, obviously - while taking bids from online buyers.

Alternatively, auction houses are using timed online sales. This style of auction is not new and has been running on for years. The sale usually runs for one to two weeks. All bidding is online and the highest bid placed by the deadline for a particular lot will secure the item.

No auctioneer conducting bidding from a rostrum is needed to run a timed online sale because all the bidding is online and takes place over a long period of time.

You may be familiar with this style of timed auction due to US firm eBay where it is used extensively and indeed continues to be in use at the moment.

Changing arrangements for viewing

Whereas previously members of the public could visit an auction house to inspect lots in person this is no longer available. Instead, in addition to providing more photos per lot, auction houses are often providing the opportunity for remote viewing via video calls.

Changing terms for storage

Auction houses are usually offering more generous terms on storage such as charging no fee for a longer period of time, recognising that picking up an item would not be an essential journey for a member of the public to undertake.

Providing contactless delivery

Auction houses may be able to provide a contactless delivery service or may be able to refer bidders to a third-party delivery specialist that does so.

On March 30 the Department for Transport wrote to road haulage and freight transport associations to confirm that it “considers it essential that the work of the logistics sector should continue to the greatest extent possible” adding that “government policy is clear that this applies to all supplies chains and not only those for food and medical supplies”. This means journeys for work by logistics staff are deemed ‘essential travel’.

Latest auctions

See the latest list of auctions taking place on by visiting the Current Auctions page

It is also worth noting that auction houses outside the UK that are running auctions on may be subject to different requirements from their local government.

Remote working 

At, all our teams are working from home and we are committed as ever to supporting the auction industry and our customers.

If you have any questions or need further support then please do contact us on

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