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From Souvenirs to Success: Breathing New Life into Museum Gift Shops

Tate Modern Shop / Alamy

“Exit through the gift shop” is a phrase that needs to be re-evaluated. Museum gift shops can and should be more than just racks of postcards positioned at the end of a museum visit. These shops have massive potential for creative and commercial success. It’s now commonplace for museum gift shops to exist in the physical and digital sphere and to be known as retail destinations for unique items.

Even if consumers don’t have an interest in your museum’s collection, they may have an interest in your museum shop’s merchandise. Museum shops exist where arts and culture meet commercial which means they can draw in more diverse crowds. Of all the different areas in museums, shops arguably have the most potential for bringing in new audiences because of the alluring nature of retail spaces. In this article, we’ll discuss three effective ways to use your shop as a catalyst for drawing people into your museum. Let’s dive in!

Transform your Museum shop with local artisans

Collaborating with artists and designers within your locality to create bespoke items is a great way to draw in new audiences and forge valuable community ties. Take time to figure out who the popular creators are that are working within your museum’s sphere and open a dialogue about stocking their wares. Even better, consider asking them to create an item, or even a line of works to be sold exclusively at your museum shop.

Bristol Mug / Image: Bristol Museums Shop

Bristol Museums Shop has an entire “Bristol” section of their shop which features items that are exclusive to the museum as well as artworks that are crafted by local artists and designers. As a community hub for arts and culture, it makes sense for museums to support local creators. By stocking locally crafted artworks, your museum can help to boost the visibility and credibility of local artists which can help launch careers and improve your sale numbers. It’s a win, win situation for everyone really! 

Make your Museum shop a unique destination

The shop at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in the North East of England has become a THE destination for quirky and offbeat items. How did they do it?

For starters, this shop operates online as well as in-person from the busy Gateshead Quayside and boasts items ranging from kitschy Newcastle/Gateshead souvenirs to uber-stylish contemporary homewares. By stocking a range of stock at various price points and incorporating local flair into the merchandise, this independent shop has established itself as a popular shopping hub.

BALTIC Shop / Image: BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art shop has had such great success because they curated their stock to draw in new audiences, not only ticket holders. By stocking items that reflect local culture like t-shirts and tote bags that say “Northern”, this shop is inviting interest from the entire community, regardless of their interest in arts and culture. This shop has become a destination for those searching for eccentric gifts at their brick-and-mortar location and around the globe.

Increase footfall by making non-ticket holders welcome in your Museum shop

Regardless of whether your museum charges an entry fee, it’s smart to consider making your museum shop open to non-ticket holders. If your shop is operating to only the select few that have purchased admission, then you are missing out on a huge market. Make it known via your website, social media posts and print advertisements that your shop is open to everyone and consider placing advertisements in local publications and shopping centres to draw in new crowds. Snap into the retail mindset and think about where the customers that you would like to draw in are already shopping and place your advertisements there. Getting to know your retail competition in this way can really help in determining what the modern consumer is looking for and how to mould your space into a trendy shopping haven.

Another thing that the BALTIC Centre shop gets points for is having their shop located in a very accessible and busy part of their building. Their location alongside River Tyne on the lively Gateshead Quayside is ideal for drawing in ambling tourists as well as Newcastle locals. Even if your museum isn’t located in within an area of heavy footfall, consider placing your museum shop within the busiest part of your building or even having multiple shops located within the space. Think of The British Museum with their shop centrally placed in The Great Court, the most active area of the museum. They are taking advantage of their most bustling space and in a very clever way. The way their shop is arranged in a circular pattern with pay points at the very centre which invites customers to be tempted by lots of cultural bits and bobs along their way to the till. Curating an interesting customer journey is important for every shop and frequent shifts in layout and merchandise can help to keep things interesting and exciting for regular shoppers.

Photo: Patrick Tomasso

A New Age of Museum Shops

To draw in new audiences, museums must strive to continually keep merchandise interesting, relevant, and desirable. Additionally, it’s important to keep up on the current retail trends to make your museum shop a destination for all consumers, whether they have an interest in arts and culture or not. Rather than think of creating a shop for people who are interested in your museum, think about creating a retail environment that’s catered towards the modern consumer, but inspired by the collection.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to local artists and designers about stocking their wares and collaborating on unique items. Work hard to make your museum shop a destination retail space by offering one-of-a-kind items in an enticing and accessible manner. Finally, remember to use your museum collection as merchandise inspiration, rather than dogma. Stock items that are reflective of your museum’s collection and mission like quirky homewares if you’re a modern art collection or flower seeds and local honey if you’re a garden/park. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art Shop does a brilliant job at this with offering a large and varied selection of products relating to their collection, but also catering to the design-conscious consumer.

In conclusion, remember to keep the modern consumer at the heart of merchandising decisions as this will help to expand your museum audience and make your shop relevant to a wider demographic.

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