In almost every museum you will likely find a store selling various products promoting the museum, like postcards, stationery, books, etc. The museum store generally is associated with buying a memento of the museum experience, to remind or tell visitors that they were there. Some stores even stock unique products associated with the museum’s theme, providing bespoke appeal to the consumer.
However, is there more to this part of the museum experience for visitors and — with the latest changes in global consumer trends (crowd culture, sustainability, shopping online) — does the museum shop model need to redefine itself to be more than just an add-on experience or a last minute souvenir pit stop? Should the shop be seen as an exhibition in itself?
After all, the museum store holds the objects that our visitors can take home. These are the objects the visitors can handle!
Whilst it may not be a typical museum exhibition, it is a space where the products have been carefully sought out, strategically displayed with the hope that the visitors are able to find a connection with the contents.
Ideally, the products within the museum store would be typical to the objects in a collection; rare, significant, and unique. Even though museum stores are not part of the commercial retail sector they may be competing for the same business. It’s very likely that the museum visitor, whether a repeat museum member or not, will likely visit their shopping precinct more than the museum. Selling the same children’s products as the local toy store is risky business.
An example of curating the shop as an experience is the recent Victoria and Albert Museum Store, which opened to coincide with the You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966–1970 exhibition.
The store is like being transported back to the 60s, with interior design and music specific to the era. The museum even set up shop in the London area of Carnaby known for its reputation as a 1960s hot spot. The shop not only sold products but also sold the experience of the exhibition.
The Museum Store Association highlights the unique offering the museum store provides to visitors. Their website states:
“As professional retailers who work in non-profit institutions, MSA members have a unique perspective on what it takes to be successful…central to extending the visitors experience beyond the front doors and into the community. Not many businesses have the dual mission to be profitable and act as a brand ambassador for the institution.”
So how can a store be an ambassador for the museum and help carry on the reputation and ethos of the institution?
Perhaps the museum shopping experience doesn’t just need to stock products and services with a monetary value, but rather exchange skills and services associated with the museum. e.g. A Transport Museum could sell car maintenance courses.
Perhaps museum stores could have sections where visitors could sell or exchange their own possessions of historical value for others in the community?
Or perhaps the visitor could become a manufacturer and purchase craft materials within the museum store to make a product and sell back to the store for on-selling to future visitors.
Could a museum store employ an exhibition loan model and allow shoppers to borrow or rent store products?
There are various ways in which the museum store model can expand from how it currently stands. By taking risks, shelving traditional perceptions and using the knowledge of the retail staff, the museum store can become the gift store that keeps on giving.
BY: STEFANIE BAILEY
Need more convincing that investing in a great gift shop could be beneficial? Check out how one historic home revitalized their on-site store.