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Smartify launches new museum marketplace 

Smartify’s Head of eCommerce Emma Roberts

Smartify’s Head of eCommerce Emma Roberts reveals how the new arts marketplace provides an exciting channel for museum stores.

Emma knows the challenges facing museum retail first-hand, having helped hundreds of museums set up their first online shops as Arts Council England’s Tech Champion for e-Commerce. Now, as Head of eCommerce at Smartify, she’s guiding the launch of a new platform that promises to boost museum retail revenue.

What is Smartify Marketplace?  

Smartify Marketplace is an online store holding a curated selection of arts-inspired gifts and lifestyle products. We work with museums, galleries and heritage sites to create retail collections that appeal to online users and represent their respective institutions.

The marketplace is an extension of the work Smartify has been doing with cultural sites: providing digital solutions to problems such as mobile guides, object recognition, wayfinding and increasing accessibility. Our goal is to bring museum products online, without losing the stories that make them special.

Following our successful pilot earlier this year, which saw an add-to-cart rate of 10% compared to an industry average of 2.5%, we’re now launching an end-to-end shopping experience. We believe that the positive response rate from audiences is down to a smooth, intuitive, integrated shopping experience.

How does it benefit museums and galleries?   

In the wake of coronavirus, it’s never been more important to help cultural organisations recoup costs from online. The museum sector lost 80% of its annual revenue in 2020 (UNESCO, 2021). And with social distancing measures continuing, and international tourism still slow, the need for flexible solutions remains pressing.

Smartify Marketplace has come out of the sector’s expressed need to increase revenue through digital. Although lots of museums and galleries have webshops, prior to the pandemic only 5-8% of retail revenue was generated from online, demonstrating that museums have a long way to go to utilise this powerful revenue stream.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Lack of awareness: people don’t think to use gallery websites for shopping.
  • Many museum webshops are outdated, causing high drop-off rates before checkout.
  • Museum shopping in-person is experiential and emotional, which doesn’t translate easily to online.

Smartify is perfectly positioned to solve these issues. We offer partners a smooth checkout process, marketing to our global audience, and an experiential content-led shopping experience, resonant of the in-person gift shop.

Can you explain a bit more about how you do this? 

Customers can discover beautiful and unique products handpicked by museum staff in one place. Products are not only presented in the online store, but also integrated into each museum’s digital exhibition guides, artwork and artist pages. So, we are able to connect audiences to shop items at points where they’re most engaged with related content. For example, if someone is watching a series on Gustav Klimt, they could be shown books, posters or merchandise inspired by the artist.

Smartify has 2.5 million app users, many of whom are signed up to our mailing list and receive push notification to their phones. We’re already set up to alert people to shop and direct an already engaged to museum retail offer. This means arts organisations don’t need to venture into digital advertising to significantly raise the profile of their retail offering.

Will Smartify Marketplace compete with museum webshops and why would someone use Smartify to buy cultural items rather than going directly to the museums?

It’s important to say that we haven’t set up the Marketplace to compete with physical gift shops or existing online stores. We have our own global audience who we know are interested in arts-inspired products, but they are not necessarily shopping at museums and galleries. Smartify Marketplace bridges this gap and introduces a new cohort of people to cultural shopping. We also envision a lot of cross-fertilisation between Smartify and our partners: for example, someone might buy a Hamlet-inspired wallet and then check out the Globe’s full webshop or programme of events.

Smartify has a large and growing audience who engage with content virtually, as well as when they visit museums. We believe that visitors are more likely to make an online purchase following an experience on the Smartify app, and all indicators from our testing phase support this: in our pilot, Smartify users were five times more likely to add-to-cart, than visitors to museum webshops.

We’ve also made a conscious decision to make sustainability a priority. Ensuring we stock environmentally conscious items and package orders using eco-friendly materials is really important to us. We know that customers increasingly care about the ethics of where they shop, so offering that guarantee is a key selling point.

As with everything else we do, the ultimate goal of Smartify Marketplace is to support arts and cultural organisations, not compete with them.

How can I list some products on Smartify?

We’ve designed our onboarding process to be smooth and straightforward, so venues of all sizes and technical abilities can partner with us. We integrate with existing shop platforms such as Shopify, WooCommerce and Wix, or via CSV files, making setting up on Smartify fast and easy.

Partners can launch collections and products on shop in a matter of days rather than weeks or months, and gain access to detailed stats about product performance, so they can make informed decisions about how to build out their collection. All of this amounts to increased sales with minimal effort.

Smartify is known as a mobile guide platform, can museums use the marketplace even if they have another guide provider?

Yes! As a Community Interest Company, our mission is to help people connect with art and culture, and support the resilience of arts organisations. We created the marketplace to help museums reach a shared audience of arts lovers, so we’re pleased to support venues regardless of who they work with.

How did your relationship with Smartify begin and what does your role involve?

I first found out about Smartify during a workshop I was leading while working as eCommerce Champion for Arts Council England. Someone mentioned what Smartify were doing for mobile guides and it intrigued me from an eComm perspective.

I knew that venues were really struggling with tech stacks, a lack of digital expertise and tight budgets. Then came along the pandemic, which obviously hit the arts sector really hard. Organisations had to make a sharp pivot towards digital, which brought thousands of UK cases to the Digital Culture Network to find solutions. That was when I reconnected with Smartify and took on this new role as Smartify’s Head of eCommerce.

My position at Smartify enables me to help a huge number of organisations bring in revenue from online sales. I work with cultural venues to bring a tailored collection of their retail online and connect their offering to Smartify’s audience through powerful storytelling.

What are your plans for the future of the marketplace?

A key focus at present is developing an environmentally friendly print-on-demand service for our partners. Our plan is to cut out waste from unsold stock and allow cultural venues to respond immediately to customer trends, with minimal lead times, no storage space and no upfront costs.

In time, I hope to work with partners to create limited edition products, exclusive to Smartify, which may sit outside of the museum’s gift shops’ existing market. We can offer museum retailers the freedom to experiment and try something new, informed by in-depth audience analytics.

Ultimately, I want to see many more arts and heritage organisations benefit from eCommerce. Shopping increasingly happens online, and this trend is only set to grow. I believe Smartify is in a strong position to help partners grow and innovate as these changes happen, so they can continue to inspire audiences.

For more information:

Emma Roberts, Head of eCommerce:

Discover Smartify Marketplace:

Web shop:

Tour w/ shop:

Artwork w/ shop:

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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