Shopping for souvenirs can be a central part of a full day out at a museum for families. As a result, we want museums to consider the needs of families when they plan their retail offer.
To support museums to better tailor their shops to the needs of families, we consulted families about what they need. We reviewed previous feedback from family judges for the Family Friendly Museum Award, data from previous family consultations for our Kids in Museums Manifesto and conducted our own survey of family museum visitors in summer 2021.
Nearly two thirds of the families who responded to our survey said that visiting a museum shop was an important part of a museum visit. However family visitors did not always feel that museums catered well for their needs. 76% of the families we surveyed said that shops were only sometimes or rarely affordable for them.
This resource aims to offer insight into what families want from museum shops and some top tips about how museums can make these amenities more family friendly. We know that it is not always easy to make changes in this area, especially where shops are run by external providers. However, we hope that some of the information and survey data will at least be helpful in starting conversations.
Many families felt shop items were too expensive and commented that they did not like being made to walk through a shop to leave a museum. They wanted a visit to a shop to be optional and to have the choice not to enter the shop when they were concerned about the cost of a day out. Clearly, it is not always possible to provide an alternative route that does not include walking through your shop. If this is the case, consider adding this information to your visual story and pre-visit information for families.
Space and height
Families also felt that shops were often cramped and lacking space for buggies and wheelchairs. They also wanted to products aimed at children available to browse on lower shelves. Erewash Museum for example has lower shelves and a lowered counter in its shop, as well as a buggy parking space making it easier for children to view products and pay independently.
Range of products
The products families identified as most wanting to see in museum shops were:
- Pocket money priced toys and souvenirs linked to the collection
- Children’s books
- Art and craft supplies
- Sustainable and environmental products
- Sensory toys
London Transport Museum and the National History Museum were highlighted by families as shops with good pocket money priced toy selections. Sensory toys are particularly important to SEND families. If you have sensory backpacks at your museum, consider whether you can sell a version of them in your shop.
Some survey respondents expressed concerns about the amount of plastic in products aimed at children in museum shops. The shop at Manchester Museum has a good range of sustainable and fair trade items and there is a range of information available about sustainable retail for children and families from the Toy and Hobby Association.
Gender neutral toys
There were also some comments in our survey from families who wanted to see more gender neutral toys. The organisation Let Toys Be Toys has a range of ideas about products that are not obviously gendered.
As with the offer in museum cafés, families were keen to see affordable items stocked in museum shops. The most popular items that families wanted museum shops to stock were pocket money priced toys, ideally linked to the museum rather than being generic. The price point families most commonly identified for pocket money toys was £3 – £5.
COVID-19 has meant that many museums have stopped accepting cash in their shops and cafés. According to Bank of England commissioned research, the transmission risk around bank notes is small and no greater than from other high-touch surfaces you would encounter in a shop.
Not accepting cash is likely to have most impact on people who do not have access to bank accounts or who are uncomfortable making card payments. Being able to use cash is also beneficial for children learning to shop independently and do simple maths about change as a life skill.
Additional sources of information
- Retail Success Guide – AIM (Association of Independent Museums)
- The Retail Toolbox – Museum Development North West
- Effective Retail for Smaller Museums – South East Museum Development
- Association of Cultural Enterprises Academy (Members only.)
- Mystery Shopper: What do children and teenagers think of museums? – Museum Development East Midlands
Created in partnership with University of Leicester placement student, Beth Green.