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How to make the most of your Museum Shop – advice from the Ashmolean

10 October 12 -- jsuess
Jessica Suess, Partnership Officer, Oxford University Museums

Last Friday Jeremy Ensor, Commercial Director at the Ashmolean Museum, was on the online panel for the Guardian Culture Professional Network’s live chat “Howto make the most of your Museum Shop”.

Joined by commercial gurus from the Victoria and Albert, BALTIC, Shakespeare’s Globe and Chiltern Open Air Museum, for 2 hours the panel fielded questions and provided their top tips on shop lay out, product selection, customer experience and taking your shop online.

We’ve brought together some of Jeremy’s best tips from the day’s discussion!

The Museum Shop and the Visitor Experience

The panel agreed that a museum shop is rarely just a financial endeavour, but an important part of the visitor experience, especially since it is often the last stop on a museum visit.

“A shop within a Museum or visitor attraction is seen as an important part of the whole visitor experience. Visitors today view Museum shops very differently, with many being 'destination' shops in their own right. As it is the last part of the visitor experience it will often be the last memory people have of their visit. It is therefore valuable from a brand point of view, visitor satisfaction as well as financial.”

Product Selection

Jeremy emphasised the importance of “knowing who your customer is” – do your market research! He also pointed out the need to link products to your collections.

“The most important criteria for any product selection should be that it is relevant to your collections. Whoever the visitor is, they will want something that reminds them of their visit and ideally they can’t find anywhere else locally.”

Jeremy noted that in products for older audiences in particular exclusivity and relevance are key!

Product Sourcing

The panel agreed that while it was best to source unique products linked to individual collections, its costly to commission exclusive products. Some suggested teaming up with partners to bulk buy, but noted that this was difficult when commissioning branded ranges.

“Across the Oxford University Museums, we are negotiating larger discounts with suppliers by, for example giving all of our postcard and greeting card printing jobs to one supplier, resulting in a lower unit price for all of us. The issue is that we all have our own branding, so cannot give one large order, but the volume of total business does give us a higher margin.”

“Greetings cards are the Ashmolean's best selling line, the vast majority of which are of images taken from the Museum's vast collections. My personal favourite line is reproduction of Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense currently selling in the Edwar Lear Exhibition Shop.”


Jeremy noted the importance of shop layout and that it should be logical, by product type or mirroring the layout of the museum’s galleries.

“If a visitor can’t find what they’re looking for, they are likely to just walk out and you lose a sale.”
He noted that although till pick-up lines certainly work, you need to experiment with the right lines, and don’t overload the space.

“Don’t crowd the till point area with loads of possible pick-up lines – limit it to 2 max!”s well as the shop itself being arranged properly, it is important to think about where the shop is within the greater museum.

“The Ashmolean Museum last year moved its main shop from the Ground Floor to the Lower Ground Floor, as part of a project to open new Egypt Galleries. Conversion rates have dropped slightly as a result but the fixtures and lighting in the new space have transformed the way product is presented and has raised the average transaction value.”

“Anyone designing a new visitor attraction will always try and get visitors to exit through a shop.”

Customer Service

The panel agreed that engaged staff with an understanding and passion for the collections are vital to a shop’s success.

“The standard of customer service given in a museum shop is vitally important as it is likely to be the last interaction the visitor has with a member of museum staff, therefore this will be the last impression they leave with. A smile, enquiring how they have enjoyed their time at the museum, what their favourite part was etc. are all ways that you can help the process and leave a positive memory.”

Online Shops

As online shopping increasingly becomes the norm, the panel discussed the role of the online shop for visitor destinations.

“On site visits still remain key across the whole sector. Online sales are growing in importance with many museums like the Ashmolean investing in new online shops (, however the on site experience will always remain key.”

“They are good for attracting audiences who may not come into your museum shop, but do not be over optimistic about its success. Be realistic, but make sure it is presented well and doesn’t damage the brand.”

Jeremy’s Top Three Tips

1. Presentation of product – is it appealing, clean, well lit and logically displayed by audience or price?

2. Price points – if a product is 75p could it be £1.00 or more?

3. Customer Service – smile and acknowledgement of all visitors entering the shop

About Jeremy

Currently Commercial Director at the Ashmolean Museum, Jeremy Ensor was previously Head of Retail and Licensing at the Natural History Museum, London, which followed 7 years with Heal’s store managing and project managing the opening of new department stores. Prior to that he spent 7 years with Selfridges in various buying and sales management roles.