Using Shopify to Transform Selling at Museums

By Zak Mensah, Head of Transformation, Bristol Culture

At Bristol Culture we have five museums and an archive service. Retail is critical to our visitor experience and is one of the key areas where as a management team we need to see year on year gains.

At the start of 2015 we had three independent ways of selling products, tickets and archive services without any sales data or robust support. Fast forward to 2017 and we have a unified EPOS system in place called Shopify which has been instrumental in transforming our business. 2016-17 ended with retail up 18% compared to the previous year with us leaning heavily on Shopify for selling, data analysis and trying out new approaches.

I chose Shopify as it appeared to be cost effective at approx £2,000 per year. It also has 24/7 support and essential features that allow tinkering, such as additional apps and an API. I have over ten years’ experience with building and using technologies and know a good deal when I see one.

On the ground Shopify is used through an iPad which is connected to a receipt printer and barcode scanner. As Shopify is a web platform it also runs through a browser and has a very useful mobile app so you can see live sales data and all your products. Staff found the iPad interface easy to use from the very beginning which is key to getting buy-in and growing trust in new technology in the retail environment.

We’ve really been able to gain an advantage in performance since the introduction of Shopify. Collecting, sharing and using the data with all staff is the single biggest improvement to our efforts to date. When we were umming and aaahhing about the need to remain open 5-6pm we could use the data to quickly check our assumption about sales and the team regularly find interesting data to share with us.

The license allows us to install and run Shopify on multiple iPads which has allowed us to experiment with pop-up shops and switch out devices if needed. At the flick of a button we are able to sell online at shop.bristolmuseums.org.uk with accurate inventory information, which is typically a stumbling block for many who run an online shop.

Recently our digital team has been leading on “talking to Shopify” using the API connected to Google Spreadsheets. We’re trying to cut down on the 20 or so steps needed to order with suppliers and get Shopify and Google sheets to communicate and make orders for us. Every morning at 7am Shopify “talks” to our Google sheets, makes a fresh set of order sheets based on the last 30 days’ sales history and works out what inventory we’ll need for the next 30 days. Although only at the crawling stage at the time of writing, this method will eliminate many hours of analysis and labour when it gets running properly. A modern day tool for the modern age of retail.

Zak Mensah is Head of Transformation at Bristol Culture, which includes five museums with 1m visitors. Follow Zak on Twitter @zakmensah and read more about his team’s work at: www.labs.bristolmuseums.org.uk