For some museum-goers, the museum shop is a key part of the experience. Half of respondents in the 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers responded that they enjoyed shopping in museum shops.
But enjoyment of the shop isn't consistent from one group of museum-goers to another. While two-thirds of women over 50 enjoyed museum shops, it plummets to only a third of parents of children 10 and younger.
Museum shops also came up a bit in my open-ended questions, with respondents sharing how, at times, museum shops can really make the experience continue for decades after. They are enablers of tangible reminders of moments that we shared, moments that moved us, and our connections to art, history, and humanity, as you can see in the thoughts of these two museum-goers:
So perhaps it isn't a surprise that parents are not as keen on shops, while older women are. It isn't that parents don't care about those kinds of experiences, or remembering them, but that they are more often visiting children's museums and science centers, which provide rather different experiences than art and history museums. (And, to be fair, some of it may be that parents don't want to deal with kids wanting what's in the shops.)
In contrast, at an art museum it is often easy to purchase a print of a painting that evoked a meaningful moment, thus extending that moment in a tangible way. Since regular art and history museum-goers are more likely to be women over 50, this finding that these women are the most likely to enjoy museum shops makes all the sense in the world.
A note about fielding research. I hold dear the idea that research for the field, about the field, should be shared with the field. But that only works when museums work together to make it possible. Since individual museums are needed to field this work, the survey also benefits participating museums on an individual level by providing benchmark data on visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographic questions … all of which can then be tracked over time in the future. Participating museums are also allowed to add 1 - 2 custom questions specific to their needs.
Which means if you value this research, want more of it in the coming years, and want to track your own museum's progress over time, please support this work by enrolling your museum in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum Goers. The fee for 2018 is only $1,000 per museum.
The questions for this survey have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who does/does not go to museums, why they do/do not visit, and what that means for communities) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.