University of Oxford

Follow us @OxfordASPIRE

This is an archive site and is not updated. It represents works conducted by Oxford University Museums funded by Arts Council England between 2012-2018. For information about our current work please visit

Retail Roundup: What's in Store?

19 March 14 -- jsuess
Jessica Suess, Oxford ASPIRE Officer
Earlier this month 35 delegates from across the country made their way to the Ashmolean Museum to discuss museum shops.  Topics for the day included knowing and developing your business; top tips for product development; best practice for forward planning; and sharing details of suppliers and which products have worked for individual museums, and which haven’t.
Knowing Your Business – Advice from the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum
The day kicked off with a presentation from Yvonne Cawkwell, Retail Manager at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum.  She discussed knowing your business: business models for success, principles of successful merchandising and product design and development.
Pitt Rivers Museum and Musuem of Natural History shops (c) University of Oxford
The group identified the four Ps of retail merchandising: the right product, at the right price, at the right place, at the right time.  Yvonne then discussed how to determine those Ps using “Weekly Sales, Stock, Income” reports.  Yvonne shared the template for the version of this report she uses, and explained how the report could be used to manage stock rotation, identify best sellers and prioritise product purchasing.  As an accepted and recognised industry tool these types of spread sheets can also be used as leverage when negotiating for greater investment in your organisation’s retail offer.
A copy of Yvonne’s Weekly Sales, Stock, Intake  spread sheet can be downloaded here.
Yvonne also spoke about cost effective methods of developing products linked to the museum’s unique selling points. She highlighted that due to digital developments it has become easier over the last few years to develop ranges with smaller quantities at competitive prices.  Suppliers also often have their own design teams that can assist organisations in developing their lines.

Product development at the Museum of Natural History (c) University of Oxford
Yvonne demonstrated low cost and low quantity development through the packaged confectionery gift range at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  Yvonne worked with a supplier who provided both advice on the best-selling products and design expertise.  These are now some of the shop's best sellers.  Individual fudge bars were particularly popular with children, and larger items were popular with tourists, often buying them as gifts. Yvonne shared that the best-selling lines at the Pitt Rivers are postcards, scarves and accessories.
Download Yvonne's slides.
Product Development - The Barbican
After lunch as well as tours of the Ashmolean's main shop and exhibition shop, Daisy Poole, currently Retail Buyer at the Barbican, shared some insights into product development. Daisy has a range of experience working in organisations from Museum Sheffield to the Natural History Musuem, London. Daisy emphasised the importance of having products in your shop that reflect your museum and brand and gave examples of product development from her experience.
Daisy went though a variety of product development techniques, from simple things such as postcards and branded stationary, to bespoke designs developed in partnership with artists and external product developers.
Daisy also shared some ideas for adding a bespoke feel to your shop without heavy investment in prouct development. She recommended investing in branded bags, which both reinforce for the customer that they are purchasing from and supporting your organisation, and acts as a reminder to other visitors to the site to visit the shop.
Listen to Daisy's talk:
Download Daisy's slides.
Developing your Business – Ashmolean Museum
The final speaker of the day was Jeremy Ensor, Commercial Director at the Ashmolean Museum, who discussed his tips for maximising spend per visitor.
Jeremy began by explaining how – breaking the cardinal rule that attraction shops should be located at the exit – as part of the Ashmolean redevelopment the shop was moved to the lower ground floor near the café.  Despite this move the shop is more successful than ever, for which Jeremy credits the shop layout, lighting and staff.
Jeremy’s top tip for the best shop layout and feel was to use simple fixtures with good spotlighting: expensive products need to look expensive.
Ashmolean Museum Shop (c) University of Oxford
Jeremy then focussed on maximising spend per visitor, by both driving visitors to the museum into the shop, and encouraging those who visit the shop to purchase. 
To encourage museum visitors to enter the shop Jeremy suggested placing appropriate reminders about the shop around the museum, in bathrooms and lifts, but also in the galleries, for example using pictures of products and books relevant to that particular gallery collection.  Once customers are in the shop Jeremy stressed the importance of visual merchandising: lighting and displays should be used to make products look desirable.  Jeremy also suggested revisiting price points regularly, especially for best sellers, and see if they can be increased.
Jeremy discussed the important role that shop staff play in both the purchasing process and the visitor experience: the shop is often the last part of the visitor experience and will often be the last memory people have of their visit.  It’s important that staff make eye contact with customers when they arrive so that they feel welcome and willing to approach staff.  Jeremy suggested that good examples of customer service should be rewarded, that staff should be given the opportunity to see how other organisations do customer service and compare their own efforts, and that they should be given goals.   Jeremy often tells his staff at the Ashmolean that if they convince an additional 1% of visitors to the museum to make a purchase in the shop, then with current average spend the museum could raise an extra £85,000 per year. 
Jeremy suggested that as well as giving staff incentives to raise sales, it is important to give customers incentives to make a purchase while at the museum.  At the Ashmolean they thank their customers for supporting the museum, ensuring that they are aware that all revenue raised is not profit, it is invested in the museum.
Jeremy also shared is thoughts on E–Commerce, which he said still represented only a small % of Ashmolean sales, with onsite visits remaining key.  He suggested that online shops are good for attracting audiences who may not come to the museum, but that expectations of their turn over should be realistic.  He felt that for the Ashmolean the online shop needed to turn over £20,000 per year to justify its existence.

Ashmolean Museum eShop (c) University of Oxford
You can view the Ashmolean online shop here.
A successful “remote” shopping experience which Jeremy had used in the past was placing stories about particularly unique products in newspapers.  Jeremy recounted how the museum had once made messenger bags our of old exhibition signs.  The museum put out a press release about the product, and the following weekend there was a significant bump in sales.
Download Jeremy's slides.
The day ended with the trip to the Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers shops, giving delegates a chance to network and swap their own top tips and suppliers. Feedback was overwhelming positive for the event with forming new relationships with colleagues in the sector being one of the mast valued aspects of the day.