Most art pieces bought online sold for less than $15,000.

Global online art and collectible sales platforms took a big leap forward last year as the online art market reached $2.6 billion, up from $1.6 billion in 2013, according to the 2015 edition of the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report.

These figures indicate that online art buying accounts for 4.8% of the estimated $55 billion value of the global art market.

The report estimated that based on the platforms’ growth trajectory, the online art market would be worth $6.3 billion in 2019.

Hiscox said that 49% of respondents in the new study had bought art and collectibles directly via an online art platform in 2014, up from 38% the year before.

The findings were based on responses from 519 international art buyers surveyed through the client mailing list of ArtTactic, a specialist art market analysis firm, during January and February; Twitter; Facebook; and Own Art’s mailing list.

According to the report, Heritage Auctions, a traditional player, became one of the world’s biggest online auctioneers last year, selling $357 million worth of art, up 42% from 2013.

Online-only outfits reported spectacular sales growth: Auctionata 148%, to $41 million, and Paddle8 146% growth, to $36 million. Christie’s Online grew by 69%, to $35 million.

Although emotional benefits continued as important incentives for buying art online, 63% of online buyers said they had been motivated by the return on investment.

Indeed, 75% of new buyers — those who had been buying art for less than three years — said they were prompted to buy art online by the value potential.

This suggested a strong trading mentality and the potential for online art marketplaces to succeed as transactional platforms, Hiscox said. At the same time, it raised questions about unrealistic expectations among new buyers, and what would happen if online markets failed to deliver attractive returns.

According to the report, 84% of respondents said they had bought art online for less than $15,000. Of these, 41% said their average price paid was less than $1,500, compared with 37% last year, and only 16% paid more than $15,000.

A majority of new art buyers reported that the average price for purchases was less than $1,500.

Does the trend in online art buying portend a demise of physical galleries and auction houses?

Ninety-one percent of online buyers in the survey said they had bought art from a brick-and-mortar facility before doing so online, and 48% of these said they still preferred the physical space, down from 56% who said this in 2013.

Fifteen percent said they preferred the online experience, compared with 10% last year, and 37% expressed no preference, up from 34%.

Hiscox said buyers appeared to be becoming less dependent on physical spaces. This and the growing level of indifference between channels collectors use suggests it will be critical to offer potential art buyers a choice of venues for acquiring art.

Social media will likely be a strong driver of future online sales. The report said 41% of respondents had discovered an online art sales platform through social media, up from 33% in 2013.

Twenty-four percent said posts by museums, galleries and artist studios had directly influenced their art buying decisions.

— Check out Soaring Fine Art Values Demand More Frequent Appraisals on ThinkAdvisor.