The Secrets to Museum Retail Success

The Boutique Route
For many, a trip to the museum shop is as vital a part of the museum trip as seeing the museum’s collections.

As funding is stripped away bit by bit and museums face increasing pressure to support themselves financially, museum shops present an excellent opportunity to boost their revenue. Those who have not previously had shops are rapidly realising this potential and over 80% of the Museum Association members now have retail facilities, generating over £100 million per year for the UK museum sector.

Traditionally museum shops have been plentifully stocked with books, niche gifts, and a lot of pocket-money friendly options for children but it’s time to up the ante.

Standing out in Museum Retail
Museums and other cultural institutions have an exceptional opportunity to capitalise on their collections’ IP. The majority of visitors do not randomly find themselves in the museum, instead, they have made a conscious decision to invest time and most likely money in cultural pursuits. They are already an engaged audience, coming specifically to view the artefacts held by the museum. They are already spending money in the gift shop on pieces that are at best loosely relevant and available elsewhere. Imagine how much per capita spending could be increased if the museum was to offer retail items specifically tailored to their collection and exclusively available through their shop.

And this is only the beginning...

Today everything is so slick, and perfect, and fast, mass-produced and mass-consumed. But consumers are becoming conscious to the ethical ramifications of this buying structure. Increasingly they are demanding to know how and where something was made, and with mainstream manufacturing methods, this rarely makes for clear or pleasant reading. Consumers are also on the lookout for something unique, something that indicates their taste and their personality.

Imagine if you could tick all these boxes in a bespoke line, ethically and sustainably made with a transparent supply chain, where each piece is unique and directly related to your collection? Would you do it?

The Museums that Set the Standard
Museum shops at the V&A in London and the New York Museum of Metropolitan Art are at the cutting-edge of museum retail. They are leading the way with retail ranges tailored to their collections, working with craft and design practitioners to realise their ranges. They are a watchword for quality and design, the destination for unusual gifts, bridging the gap between museum shop and high-end high street shop.

The V&A took over £1 million just from jewellery sales in the year after their shop refurbishment, while the Met took $54.5 million in retail sales in 2016-17, with products ranging in price from $40 to $3,000. These shops have become destinations in their own right, with shoppers coming to the cultural venue with the express intention of visiting the shop. However, through their exceptional experience-led retail, that highlights the museum’s collections, shoppers can be prompted to investigate the collections, feeding back into the museum proper.

Their curated and handcrafted retail ranges are immediately relatable to their exhibits. The items for sale confer value to the museum collections by offering a tactile extension of the exhibits, enabling visitors to touch handcrafted ceramics and glass that are elsewhere protected behind glass screens. The museum collections, in turn, confer value on the retail range by providing context and demonstrating the longevity and cultural value of such work, a comparison that helps to justify the higher prices handcrafted works command.

Become a Boutique
Every piece carries the mark of the maker, a patina, brushstroke or thumbprint, slight variations in surface design. As a consumer, the opportunity to acquire something unique, to hold each variation in their hands, weighing them against each other, feeling the camber, discovering a distinctive mark, empowers them to make a personal choice.

This boutique-feel museum shopping experience encourages a tactile and emotional engagement with the works for sale and on show. They inspire visitors to take a closer look at the museum’s collections and build a memory that will be evoked every time they see or use the piece they purchase. This is a key strategy for long-term audience engagement and boosting return visitor numbers.

With the number of visitors seeking out unusual gift options or statement home and accessories pieces in museum shops, it is also a fantastic opportunity to attract new visitors through museum doors. Get the retail right and museum shops have the potential to convey the quality and vibrancy of the museum collections abroad without a penny spent on marketing.

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