Tempting visitors to spend

Whatever the evidence may be of a burgeoning recovery on the high street, happy days are certainly here again in the heritage industries. Monica Lucas, founder, Pragma Consulting, looks at how museums are tempting visitors to spend in both catering and retail.

According to figures published earlier in the year by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) all the major museums in London saw visitor numbers increase in the last year. During the recession, tourism in major cities suffered and even the free to enter attractions experienced reduced footfall. Thankfully that trend now seems to be reversing.

The British Museum and the National Gallery received more than 6 million visitors each, and the Natural History Museum saw over 5 million people come through its doors in a 12-month period. Meanwhile, churchgoing and religious interest sites have strengthened their appeal, with over 2 million going to see each of St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and key natural sights are becoming increasingly popular (Kew Gardens up 29 per cent and London Zoo up 26 per cent).

With these increases, the opportunities for secondary spend in both catering and retail are substantial, and the major institutions have not been slow to recognise this. Several now have prestigious eateries in addition to the usual tourist café. If we pick a menu, the National Gallery, for example, recently offered Borders pheasant, chanterelles, chervil root and Stornoway black pudding for £20.50. At Tate Modern, meanwhile, you can enjoy slow-roasted rabbit leg, brown lentils with smoked bacon & rosemary and buttered kale for the slightly cheaper price of £18.50. It is possible to buy upmarket meals at possibly unexpected venues, and these options can be very profitable for the attractions that offer them.

Over the years, we have worked with many of the top venues to help increase understanding of visitor profiles, motivations and desires, as well as to implement merchandising and display programmes. As such, we have witnessed substantial improvements over the years at these venues, especially in the museum shop. No longer is the same old tat to be found in isolation from more sought-after items: cheap mugs, pens and low-quality chocolates bars onto which the institution’s logo has been crudely pasted. The best museum retail professionals have recognised and capitalised on the key advantages they have over high street retailers, and stocked their shelves accordingly:

All the major institutions now have extensive own product development, which enhances the desirability and perceived value of items due to their uniqueness. They are able to charge prices to match for example recent costs included the British Museum Viking head sculpture at £210; Royal Academy Hockney-inspired silk scarf, £55; and the Historic Royal Palaces bone china tea set, £225.

  • A segmented audience with focused, common interests. This allows the requirements of different sections of the visitor audience to be understood and catered to.
  • An extended dwell time. The fact that people are in the building for a longer time than they would be in, for example, a supermarket, means they are a captive audience in terms of increasing purchase propensity. And in free venues, they haven’t paid to get in, so may be more willing to open their wallets and purses again in the shop or cafe
  • A day-out / special occasion mentality. If a visit is seen as a treat, it is much more likely to mean people feel good about buying gifts and mementos

All that said, it is probably in the area of visual merchandising, the creative juxtaposing of products, where the greatest advances have been made to encourage spend. For example, visitors leaving the National Gallery’s Veronese exhibition were regaled with a further display of sumptuous Venetian items to buy and take home: jewel-coloured glassware, heavy gold necklaces and crimson gauze wraps. If visitors have enjoyed scrutinising exhibits on their way around the gallery, why not stock the shop with objects of desire that can be theirs too?

Today’s disenchanted and cash-strapped consumer needs more excitement and stimulation to buy. The levels of product originality and display ingenuity in our major museums are now something many a high-street retailer would do well to notice.