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Sector Case Study: Art UK’s online shop boom

In conversation with Camilla Stewart, Head of Commercial Programmes and Collection Partnerships at Art UK.

What is the Art UK Shop?

The Art UK Shop is an eCommerce platform that generates revenue for Art UK Partners. As of July 2020, 64 collections, large and small, share the platform. This includes Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, Courtauld Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Oriel Môn, the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust and National Museums Northern Ireland. Art UK has 2.8 million annual unique users with its UK audience growing by 20% each year.

Have sales been affected during lockdown?

We’ve been experiencing fantastic sales during lockdown, with sales in April up 140% from April 2019 and sales in May up 141% from May 2019.  June 2020 was our best month ever with sales of £22,503. This trend continued into July. August sales have got off to a very good start.

What key factors have helped increase sales during this time?

The growth in sales has been driven by several key factors. Firstly, we were very quick to review the production processes with our supplier meaning that Covid-safe working practices were introduced very early on in the pandemic and production was not interrupted.

Secondly, users across Art UK as a whole were up due with the amount of digital content we were developing for Museums and Galleries during lockdown.  The fact that there are 2.8 million unique users coming to Art UK already, just to view artworks or read stories is such a benefit for collections participating in the shop.

Thirdly, better signposting from Art UK, including adding shop content to stories, sent more traffic to the shop.

Finally, we’re working hard to market collections using our pay-per-click budget, investing in Google Shopping Ads and increasing our spend on social media advertising.

How have you optimised shop functionality in response to the crisis?

We are continuing to develop new art themes and artist pages that we know will sell, based on what people are searching for online. The shop homepage conversion rate almost doubled year-on-year after a period of testing and creating new themes. Art UK works with our suppliers to invest in improving the shop platform and user experience.

We have been reorganising products within the shop, improving ranges, adding content and theming artworks.  We are also commissioning bespoke products including a new 3D printed range of jewellery inspired by some of the sculptures we’ve photographed in collections.

What new projects have you worked on during lockdown?

Simple but effective projects we’ve worked on during lockdown to promote collections include the Guardian’s Great British Art Quiz . By the end of this year, 100 partner collections in Art UK will have set an art quiz about their collection, really helping to raise their profile during this difficult time.

We have also run a very successful #onlineartexchange which takes place every Thursday, where museums and galleries share artworks (based on a theme) they like from other collections. These have brought audiences to Art UK and increased digital engagement with collections whilst venues have been closed.

We’ve also noticed some interesting projects that collections have promoted. #HastingsDigitalMuseum were very quick off the mark with developing digital content and they have worked on a community art project to produce this “digital quilt” .  We have added the image to the shop, and Hastings benefited from £800 of print sales in the first few weeks.

What’s next for the Art UK Shop?

We’re adding more collections to the shop. We’re now at 64 and have another 10 collections in the pipeline. Many of the collections we have added have been high profile collections, such as National Portrait Gallery and National Museums Northern Ireland.

We’re also just launching print to order products with a handful of collections.  It’s clear that it is hard for collections to access their physical shops at the moment to fulfill orders from their own shops, or from the Art UK Shop if the products are stocked direct by collections. Print-to-order offers a quick win in this scenario. There’s no need to invest in stock and the fulfillment can be managed by the supplier.  Below is one of the first ranges, from the Wellcome Collection, and we are now adding more ranges from collections such as Museums Galleries Edinburgh, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, Barber Institute and possibly National Museum Wales following in the next few weeks.

Want to find out more?

Visit the Art UK website to check out their current shop. The Digital Culture Network helped Art UK refine their online retail offer. We are here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you would like to have a chat about your online retail, please get in touch with eCommerce Tech Champion, Kath Brown. Sign up to our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.


Original article created in October 2020. Author: Emma Roberts.

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