Curation, Collaboration, and Connection: Retailing in the Museum of the Future


July 5, 2022 | By Shruthi Nair

On February 22nd, 2022, the 77ft architectural marvel touted to be the most beautiful building on earth, officially opened its calligraphed doors to the world. Three days later, Museum of the Future’s retail shop, seamlessly nestled within the monument, launched as an extension of the overall experience for visitors.

Museums are major repositories of a country’s history and heritage, stocks of object and specimens of cultural value. They are also an invaluable contributor to the country’s image and economy by extending avenues of recreational and educational tourism. But what is the revenue model of a museum?

Most museums generate revenue from admissions and ticket sales, membership fees, educational programs, and the retail shops. Now, the contributions of these gift shops are never just purely economic. These curated retail spaces help educate visitors, build the museum’s brand, and highlights the important aspects of the museum, which the visitors can take home with them.

Dubai’s iconic Museum of the Future is not your ordinary museum. An enigma of sorts, the museum tells the narrative of the future through a series of interactive exhibitions and invites people to experience the technologies and trends that will shape the future of humanity. Spanning an area of over 30,000sqm, the pillarless structure, unlike most other museums is a peek into the present and the future and not the past. With themes including outer space, ecosystems and bioengineering, as well as near-future technologies that will shape the development of everything from transportation and energy to the food that we eat, the museum isn’t just an engineering marvel, but a next-generation concept that is unlike any other globally.

Sarah Warden is the Head of Merchandise at the Museum of the Future, but assuming that her role is restricted to the shop and merchandising would be far from the truth. “My core role is to curate a merchandise retail and experience offer. I focus on both the products as well as how it looks in the store, so visual merchandising is key to make sure our creative content and the meaning behind the collections is shown to our visitors. That filters to our e-commerce as well. Every touchpoint of our merchandise collection is carefully themed. I also take care of creating a community hub within our retail environment. We offer experiences and services to elevate our product offerings,” she said.

The museum shop isn’t considered as a separate entity or even a different revenue arm of the museum. It is all part of one unified experience that the facility aims to offer. What is available on the store shelves is all a result of a collective effort that goes beyond the retail team as each, and every product is somewhat just as much inspired by the people behind the museum.

“We approach the retail offer as the first and final touchpoint of your visitor journey. It is an extension of the exhibition and what you experience. We have done that to not only continue the experience for visitors, but also extrapolate the products that connect our consumers’ emotional response to their environment,” she explained.

For example, Level 3 – Al Waha (The Oasis) serves as a wellness space for people to revive their senses and disconnect from technology. An interesting observation though, is that, there has been a direct correlation between people experiencing their digital detox in Al Waha and then directly going to the store to buy products that educate and inform them further about that wellness space. “We have a collection from ‘The School of Life’ and people gravitate towards that if Al Waha was their most memorable part of the journey,” she said.

“For us, it is important to have that emotional connection as we are not just selling the product but selling people’s memories,” she added.

That is why every product is carefully curated to evoke an emotional response, with the designers, manufacturers, and producers handpicked to align with the broader vision and ideology of the museum. Bearing this in mind, the collections are based on three key themes: First is products reflecting the building architecture and calligraphy, second is the extrapolated collections based on the museum exhibits and third is authentic Dubai souvenirs.

50% of the products in the museum are private labels and the rest are either sourced locally or are collaborations with international brands. “Our main focus is the alignment of our product with our themes and content, more than the brand itself. We have worked with local designers, source locally, and make sure sustainability is top of mind. The logo collection is as sustainable as it gets – using eco-friendly or recycled materials. We have products made from recycled CD cases, receipts, mobile phone glasses, wheat and recycled plastic bottles too,” she said.

While technology is crucial to elevate the overall museum experience, it isn’t at the cost of the humanistic experiences. In fact, technology acts as an enabler within the museum and the shop, to let people fully immerse their senses to take it all in. The ethos of ‘humanism elevated by tech’ trickles down to the way the exhibits are positioned, the products are sourced, and collections are displayed in the shop.

“We have an exclusive offer in conjunction with Algorithmic Perfumery, which provides an AI –powered hyper-personalised approach to the future of scent,” she said. It offers a new way to interact with scent by placing users at the heart of the creation process, using AI-generated data. “We are always looking for new innovative product offers.”

The products are available both in the physical store in the museum as well as its online store. The recently launched e-commerce site offers its best-selling products and extends services such as international shipping and click-and-collect.

“For the rest of this year our strategy is to build on the bespoke collections as that’s what our customers want. Our bestselling products are our calligraphy collection, which is also on our website. We’re looking at collaborations with design studios that have worked on immersive products and content. We are building up on blurring the boundaries between exhibits and retail offers,” said Sarah.

There are also plans to launch a range of digital products on the blockchain, and unsurprisingly, the first launch will be an NFT collection. The museum is collaborating with Binance, a blockchain and cryptocurrency infrastructure provider, for the project.

There are several internal and external collaborations that make a museum ecosystem fully functional, with the aim being to give visitors such an extraordinary experience that they end up becoming the authentic ambassadors of the institution. The curatorial collaborations ensure that whether the store is commissioning its own products, working with brands, or buying them from the trade, their pieces connect directly or thematically to the exhibits and the vision of museum, which the Museum of the Future does not underscore.

“Ultimately, we are trying to evoke an emotion and connect with our customers on a deeper meaningful level. We are doing that by giving a huge amount of attention to detail on every touchpoint. Whether you purchase on our website or in-store, you would have a personal shopping experience. It is not just about selling products, but it’s about education, interaction, and engagement, and that comes from us working closely with the immersive content and offering an interesting experience that people remember,” she concluded.

 

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