How Museum Store Sunday became a global event

A record 2,100 museums participated this year.
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Museum Store Association

· 4 min read

Blasphemous as it may be to mention around here, not everyone loves holiday shopping, but here’s hoping it doesn’t get so bad that anyone is tempted to start drinking jet fuel. Unless, of course, they’re at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, where “jet fuel” is the house brew, and was served gratis in its store as part of its Museum Store Sunday festivities on November 26.

Along with coffee, the museum store offered members 20% off purchases, and, for non-members, 20% off memberships.

Museum Store Sunday was launched in 2017 by the Museum Store Association, a nonprofit that supports retail stores at nonprofit cultural institutions. This year, more than 2,100 museum stores participated (from all 50 states in the US and 25 countries), up from 670 that first year.

This year’s results aren’t tallied yet, but 2022 was a banner year for Museum Store Sunday:

  • Stores increased net sales by 39% YoY.
  • Store transactions increased 43% YoY.

Brands strive mightily to articulate their values to consumers, with a 2022 Harris Poll survey finding that 82% of consumers want a brand’s values to align with their own. And with nonprofit museums, naturally, many consumers believe most are valuable cultural institutions that enrich their communities.

“Everything that is sold in our museum stores goes back to the museum,” Susan Tudor, president of the Museum Store Association, told Retail Brew. “The net profits are all in support of what is done in the institution.”

Exhibit A: Tudor also serves as store buyer and manager of visitor service at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida.

On this year’s Museum Store Sunday the Cummer offered 25% off the entire store, for both museum members and non-members, while members always get 10% off at the store and deeper discounts at other holiday events.

Tudor said that most museum participants offered one-day discounts from 10% to 30%.

Irrespective of whether museums are members of the Museum Store Association, the group encourages participation and offers a free marketing tool kit that includes free signage to print out and suggested marketing and social media content.

The group also encouraged participating museums to partner with vendors who might want to do trunk shows, adding a draw while not requiring the store to take on more inventory, and to work with other institutions in their area to purchase cooperative advertising with them.

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This year the group emphasized that, since many museum stores feature the work of local artists, the stores can offer a more sustainable option than something manufactured offshore.

“Partnering with local artists reduces shipping-related costs and emissions for both museum stores and their patrons, ultimately minimizing air pollution while conserving valuable energy,” Patricia Sampson, board president of the Museum Store Association and director of the King Center Bookstore and Resource Center in Atlanta, said in a statement.

State of the art: Daniel Thiem oversees New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art’s retail store as its director of visitor experience, and this marked the first year the New Museum participated in Museum Store Sunday. The New Museum offered 20% off all orders in the store and online.

When Retail Brew visited the museum a week before the event, Thiem told us how museum stores have evolved over the decades.

In the 1980s and 1990s, museum stores sold more “tchotchkes,” like keychains, magnets, and pens, which Thiem doesn’t stock because he doesn’t want “to create more waste, quite frankly,” he said. Rather, the museum focuses more on functional everyday objects, like a sham that features the work of artist Judy Chicago or a tea towel featuring the work of artist Pipilotti Rist.

And whether shoppers come to the shop on Museum Store Sunday or in the dog days of August, Thiem said he sees the store as being a “marketing arm” for the museum along with a revenue source.

“We’re able to be in some ways a voice and be an avenue for the museum to talk about its exhibitions in a bit indirect way through retail,” Thiem said. “Sometimes people just come to the museum store to come to the museum store, not necessarily to see a show, so this allows them to get a taste of what the museum is about.”

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Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.