Hello. I'm a digital marketer and freelancer in the creative and cultural sectors, currently working at the British Library. I like blogging about digital stuff, social media, museums, art, entrepreneurship, design and creativity.

What makes a great museum online shop?

What makes a great museum online shop?

In case you didn't spot it, I've got a new job at the British Library. I'm now marketing its corporate and commercial services, including its onsite and online shop. As part of my research for the role, I wanted to get a better understanding of what works for museum and gallery online shops.
 

Branding

The most successful shops (think the V&A, Design Museum and MoMA) all have clear brands and product niches. The British Library has a nice strap-line for its shop: “Quirky books and gifts for the curious and literary-minded.”   If I want jewellery, I’ll go the V&A, and if I want bright and bold towels and mugs, I’ll go to the Tate.  With these brands, you know what to expect.

Something that I care a lot about is high quality product images. When I shop on sites like John Lewis or ASOS, I am used to seeing fantastic images and the product from lots of angles. I know museum shops can't offer quite the same experience, but it's still important. And if you’re selling jewellery, I like to see a photograph of someone wearing the piece, so you can see how it sits.


Quality over pricing

As you'd expect, visitor attractions can’t compete with brands like Amazon on price. So instead they offer added value. For example:

  • supporting British manufacturing
  • ethical and environmentally-friendly practices
  • products inspired by museum collections or exhibitions
  • exclusive product ranges
  • working with talented designers
  • wish list functionality
  • Gift wrapping
Image: V&A makes a big feature out of its exclusives.  I love the background image too - so pretty.

Image: V&A makes a big feature out of its exclusives.  I love the background image too - so pretty.

Over the last few years the Library has pushed its exhibition product ranges a lot. For example, for our Gothic exhibition we sold everything from Vampire slaying kits to absinthe. We also work with lots of up-and-coming designers.

Brands like MoMA and the V&A have developed their brands so that they can sell high-quality and expensive product ranges, going up to thousands of pounds.

Image: MoMA's furniture and home decor range. Yes, that is an Eames chair at the bottom of the page!

Image: MoMA's furniture and home decor range. Yes, that is an Eames chair at the bottom of the page!

Most museums now mention that sales support the work of their organisation. In this time of funding cuts, it’s an essential part of the business.

Search results

I think it's good practice to be able to refine search results by lots of variables: colour, price, product type, etc. I also like to change the order of my search e.g. by bestsellers or price. There is a lot of variation between museum and gallery shops in this - the British Museum does it well.

Image: British Museum search functionality

Image: British Museum search functionality

Cross promotion

This is one of the easier things to achieve on an online shop.  Sites included things like related products, recently viewed items, staff picks, curated collections, and so on.

Another trend was that shops promoted other areas of their organsiations e.g. fundraising campaigns, exhibition tickets or membership schemes.

Image: Cross-promotion boxes for the Science Museum shop.

Image: Cross-promotion boxes for the Science Museum shop.

Good customer service

This seems self-explanatory, but there is a lot of variation between sites. It's important to see clear information on contact details, returns, delivery, etc. Some sites (not all) also offer the option to pay with PayPal which I like.

I'm not going into any detail into the booking process, but it goes without saying that it needs to be a smooth and relatively pain free experience!

Clear links to social media

I think all shops should have icons that link to their social media channels (why wouldn't you?). I found lots of museums do this in part, but miss off some of their newer channels e.g. Instagram, Google+, twitter, etc.

On the topic of social media, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram work better than sites like Twitter. 'Buy this' type messages don't get many favourites and retweets. 

 

Like this blog? You might also like my article on a beginner's guide to fashion trend forecasting and behind-the scenes: how the Southbank is redesigning its website.

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