A New Era for the Museum Shop Merchandise

Museums are breathing new life into their official stores with merchandise that’s inspired by their collections.

Michelangelo bracelet: The Met Museum Store

It’s all in an effort to move beyond the “souvenir shop” feel that these retail locations have had for years, with their stale layouts and limited merchandise options. Indeed, that’s all changing, thanks to merchandisers and shop managers committed to livening up the experience.

“Museum shops are no longer just about selling things,” Diane Drubay, chief executive of museum marketing consultancy We Are Museums, told The New York Times. “They are about adding a new step to the museum experience.”

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam recently made images of artworks free to access online, part of a program it dubbed the Rijksstudio. This inspired the museum shop to host competitions to encourage people and companies to create items using the available imagery. The shop then started stocking the items. The special edition products visitors can take home include action figures by German toy manufacturer Playmobil based on Johannes Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”

Meanwhile, Dutch fashion brand LaDress created silk frocks for a special in-house line called LaDress X Rijksmuseum. Customers can also browse syrups, marmalades and jellies made from ingredients depicted in classic works.

In New York City, the Museum of Modern Art’s Design Store offers high-concept furniture, lighting, home décor, jewelry and clothing. Every item has been approved by the museum’s curatorial staff. And, at the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which operates a massive 15,000-square-foot bookstore and gift shop, visitors can take home silk scarves featuring patterns from the museum’s pottery collection; bracelets with patterns from ancient Roman and Greek artefacts; and clutch purses inspired by silk-and-wool tapestries. This winter, during a Michelangelo exhibit, one of the shop’s biggest sellers was a $185 bangle bracelet imprinted with the artist’s sketch of the Libyan Sibyl, a female figure on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome.

“We’ve done surveys and about a third of the people who come to the museum say that they plan to shop here,” Rich Perdott, the Met’s vice president of merchandising, told the New York Times. “They’ve said they want to buy something that’s a tangible memory of their visit. Part of our goal always is to give them something they couldn’t get elsewhere.”

Museums are also working to make their shops destinations of their own – a kind of wedding of branded merch and experiential marketing. The Musée National Picasso in Paris, for example, operates a shop across the street from the museum, in a charming four-room flat decorated in a style that Picasso would have used to decorate his own digs.

“It’s designed like a living room and it’s just like going to a friend’s place,” says Drubay. “You have this intimate and cozy feeling and you have a feeling that you can imagine an object in your home. I remember beautiful vases and coffee cups.”

LaDress dresses: Rijksmuseum

Playmobil milkmaid: Rijksmuseum

Picasso museum store: Musée National Picasso Paris