Retail tips to success and key philosophies – Q&A with Stephen Spencer

When it comes to launching new products in a museum retail offer there are many things to consider. Here Stephen Spencer gives his tips on where to start and what to considider

What are the key things that museums and heritage attractions should consider when re-evaluating or launching a new retail offer?

They need to start thinking about who is their customer? Has the customer or the customer profile changed?

What do they consider value? I.e. Authenticity, exclusivity, provenance, relevance – to trends, big events, the zeitgeist, the way they live, their interests?

Really try and understand trends – what do their customers read/aspire to/buy?

What’s the story? And where do they feature in it?

What’s the competition doing, and how can they learn/go one better/adapt to their brand/story?

How do they want to buy? Online, click and collect, shipping, gift packaging, personalisation?


How much can they learn by following models and trends from the retail sector?

Look at the very best – the innovators. Selfridges, Liberty, Oliver Bonas.

Physical experience carried through to online.

Create a dialogue with their customers Рsurveys, social media, add value, share stories, create exclusive offers, special editions, events.

Also understand what trends to avoid – tech for tech’s sake, monitoring behaviour but not understanding why?

It’s aslo critical that staff are well-trained, engaged and¬†understand how to add value and sell.

How important is it to have a steady stream of new or differentiating stock and how often should this be changed?

Depending on whether they have high or low repeat visitation it’s important to create interest – i.e. Friends or members will look for products that work as gifts for friends or relatives not just souvenirs

Even if they have low repeat visits it’s important to keep developing, building on established sellers, reflecting trends, always aiming to excite every customer and maximise their spend

Exhibitions are a great opportunity to create unique products and generate PR as well as incremental sales.

What are some key principles when commissioning new items and also retaining some of the old bestsellers?

Refresh bestsellers by adding new options, colours, gift packs etc.

When commissioning new items keep the customer in mind at all times – what do they consider value? What excites them?

Does this need to be exclusive to us? If origination or minimum orders are a problem can we collaborate with another institution with similar subject matter to spread the risk.

Can we test the product or category with an off the shelf product first?

Is this a me-too product or genuinely original/unique/new?

What are the challenges museums and heritage attractions face that normal retailers do not?

Physical location i.e. Not on every high street.

Limited subject matter but also opportunity to exploit trends and creativity to present familiar material in new ways.

Need for authenticity but also high trust factor.

Limited budgets however the vision and the will allied to creativity and ingenuity can create a great experience – make sure they are spending on the right things – the story and the team.

How important is it to have own brand items and should these be mixed up with other offers such a literature and gifts?

Some larger organisations seem to think it’s vital to maximise the % of own label. In truth this can limit your options. Curated buys from a wide range of suppliers can give added context and appeal to the brand. Books are a wonderful way to set the tone of the shop and complement own brand and bought-in merchandise.

Again, members and friends might want certain branded products e.g. Diaries and calendars but they also want a wide range of curated, quality gifts.