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  • Writer's pictureKendraB

7 Retailing Ideas for Your Museum Gift Shop

Updated: May 17, 2023

This Spring and Summer, museums are opening up and getting back to schedules near normal. Museums are excited to send out announcements with new hours, special exhibits and upcoming events.

At the same time, the museum-going public is equally excited at the prospect of school field trips, family fun days and new learning opportunities for museum junkies.

So, what does all this activity mean to museum gift shops like yours?

Well, similar to other retail venues, you'll need to have plenty of inventory on hand. You should also talk with your vendors to learn about anything new they have to offer that you should be carrying.

In the world of retail, museum gift shops have many of the same issues as other retailers. But you also have a few unique challenges and opportunities.

Here are a few to consider:

1-Think About Your Customer

Of course you think about all your customers and providing them the best service and experience possible. But do you really think about the customer? I mean, who is visiting your museum shop? What are they buying? And what do they expect from you?

  • Do you have multiple customer bases you must serve? For example, is your store as equally inviting to school groups as it is to senior citizens?

  • Do you have the right mix of gifts and souvenirs for kids on a field trip, grand parents wanting to buy something for their grandchildren and someone looking for that truly unique, memorable item that will remind them of their visit?

  • Taking time to really assess your customer base will help you in so many ways: creating eye-catching displays, buying merchandise, and setting up store traffic patterns.

2-Be An Extension of the Museum

You will always be a retail space second and an extension of the museum first. While sometimes this may seem to limit your options, it can also make your job easier:

  • You can get your inspiration for displays from the museum collection and special events.

  • You may have access to museum collections not on display that you can use in retail displays.

  • Since you have a built-in customer base (museum visitors) you have more time to focus on building an online gift store and creating ways to make your store more of a destination in and of itself.

3-Offer Memories

So often your visitors make your gift shop their last stop on their museum tour.

They are looking for something to keep the memory of their visit alive. Maybe it's a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of artwork. Or perhaps it's a simple magnet or tee shirt. Either way, you want to do your best to enhance the memory:

  • Wrap the gift in museum logo'd tissue paper, shopping bags and stickers

  • If you have an iconic exhibit or piece of art, work that into the design or even print up postcards that you can include with the item. Make it easy to share their memory with a friend of family member.

  • Ask your vendors if they can work with you to custom design their packaging for your museum--special stickers on the bag or custom tags and hanging cards with your museum name. We're always happy customize packaging and products for our museum retail stores.

4-Work with Museum Marketers

Since you are an extension of the museum, you should get some extra benefits that can help you promote the gift shop. Ask the museum promoters to:

  • Include the gift shop in the newsletter--mention new or limited-availability items.

  • Work with you to create a unique souvenir to coordinate with a special exhibit.

  • Again, consider museum items not on display that you could use in building distinctive displays that help to extend the museum experience to the gift shop. Large photographs and posters from past exhibits can really enhance your shop.

  • Make your online museum gift shop prominent on the museum website.

  • Brainstorm with you and the retail staff about ways you can play off the museum theme and/or special events to create an experiential retail activity.

5-Build a Mailing List

If at all possible, you should extend your museum gift shop to the Internet. E-commerce is the perfect way to build another revenue stream and reach people interested in your museum but without plans to visit in the near future. Just remember that "build it and they will come" does not apply to any website or store--even if you're Amazon! You have to promote and regularly remind people that you are out there.

The easiest way to stay in touch with past visitors, potential future visitors and the general public who may like what you have to sell is to build a mailing list:

  • Ask customers for their email address when they check out

  • Provide an online sign-up form for special messages from the gift shop

  • Provide a sign-up book or dedicated computer for online sign ups in the museum.

  • Offer shopping discount coupons for signing up for your gift shop newsletter online.

  • Send out a monthly or quarterly newsletter.

  • If your museum is located in a very special community--such as Williamsburg, Boston or Hyde Park--include chatty stories about activity in the community. Build a relationship with your mailing list.

  • And don't forget to tell your people about special items in your store.

6-Offer Impulse Items

The impulse purchase is, of course, a standard retail technique. And it works as well in the museum gift store as in a local retailer. But here are a few special considerations:

  • Make your impulse items unique to your museum. Even if it's just a pen or keychain, have your museum's name and logo printed prominently.

  • Again, if there's an iconic exhibit in your museum, work that into a small impulse item, such as a button or sticker set.

  • Talk with your vendors about creating a unique impulse item for you as well as a display unit.

7-Create Special Events

Everyone likes special events. Holidays and historical dates and anniversaries make great activities you can use to build special activities and displays in your gift shop.

But what if there isn't any holiday or event you can build on? Make one up. There are lists of special days, weeks and months that have been designated National This or That Day/Month. You can look at lists like this one. Or create something of your own.

Maybe you can work with a local charity or organization to create a drive to collect toys, blankets or mittens (just a few possibilities). You can work with the museum staff to create a press release and might even get coverage on your local TV station or in the paper. These are great ways to build exposure for your museum gift shop and bring in extra revenue.

Museum retailing can be both rewarding and challenging. Use your ingenuity and creativity to stand out from the crowd.



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