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INTERVIEW The Natural History Museum’s Ola Ignatowicz on what ecommerce can do for a museum

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Half-term week is always a busy one for London’s key museums. A fitting time, then, to speak to Ola Ignatowicz, ecommerce manager at the Natural History Museum shop to find out how the museum’s ecommerce site has developed in its first year in business, and what preparations are underfoot for the Christmas season.

Internet Retailing: Tell us about the Natural History Museum’s online shop and how it has developed over its first year?

Ola Ignatowicz, ecommerce manager at the Natural History Museum shop: Our shop launched in June 2014 on a brand new Magento platform with improved functionality and a mobile responsive site. At the time we launched with 500 products. Now, over a year later, we’re on more than 3,000 products and growing. Our team has also developed from one person looking after the whole operation to a team of five now split between the site/ marketing team and ecommerce operations.

Before Christmas last year we integrated our wall print offer into the online shop, so that customers could buy the best-selling Wildlife Photographer of the Year prints and other shop products within the same basket. In the Spring of this year we started working with our first personalisation partner Sergeant Smith on personalised dino-themed apparel, and in the Summer we introduced personalised dino-gifts for kids from another partner MeenyMineyMo. Summer also saw us introduce tablets into the newly redesigned museum main shop, and by the end of this year we have more tablets going our newly redesigned Cranbourne Boutique as part of our ‘digital lounge’.

IR: Who are your customers, and how do they want to shop?

OI: Our customers span from those interested in supporting us as a museum, as part of visiting us for an exhibition such as Wildlife Photographer of the Year and those looking for a more unique selection of gifts. Apart from the UK, we have quite an international customer base with a lot of interest from US, Canada and Australia.

IR: Have you come across challenges specific to running ecommerce for a museum, and how have those been dealt with?

OI: As with any start-up business, as essentially that’s what the ecommerce team has been, we’ve faced quite a few challenges to get off the ground. Being part of a museum poses its own list of challenges. We’ve had to be internal evangelists on the benefits of ecommerce for the museum and the need for increased speed, resources and reactivity, which an online business demands.

Like any business, results speak for itself, so by providing analysis to all departments on what their help has meant to us has won us favours and helped us grow.

Are there any parts of the shop/ecommerce technology that you’re particularly proud of?

OI: We are proud of our product range, which links into the ethos and history of the museum, and includes ranges around polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, books and gifts related to the naturalist Charles Darwin, animal and plant inspired gifts and books and of course a huge array of dinosaur products from the £2 dinosaur chocolate lolly to the new £250 3D printed replicas of Museum specimens.

We have also invested in a 360° photography machine for launch last year and most of products have a 360° image that allows the customer to view our products from every angle, giving them a more informed purchasing decision. Lastly we’re very proud of our copywriting, which we do for all the products within our team, and we’ve been picked up on it in Econsultancy a couple times now.

IR: How has selling online brought benefits to the museum?

OI: As a public and scientific institution we are having to be increasingly more self-sufficient in terms of funding, which is where our commercial teams come in – from ecommerce and shop retail to events and exhibition tickets. The plans for ecommerce to grow and keep supporting the museum over the next five years are quite ambitious and I feel with the right investment we’re up for the challenge.

IR: How are you preparing for peak shopping in the run up to Christmas?

OI: Being a gifting-focused website, a large percentage of our sales comes from the peak October to December period so we’ve been gearing up for it for a few months on the operations side. We’re looking to improve our customers’ experience by improving the delivery options with a new courier contract and increasing our team on the ground for peak. We are also working on our site stability to make sure we are providing the best shopping experience during this important period. On the marketing side we recently started working with a new PPC agency and we’re in the process of changing our email system – so a lot of change for Christmas 2015!

On the product side, we’ve just launched our Christmas shop with more than 200 new woodland-theme products – from squirrel, owl and fox-themed accessories for ladies to grooming items for men and festive food. We’ve added ranges inspired by the great pioneers such as Darwin, Shackleton and William Smith. We’ve also taken our dinosaur range to the adult audience with the introduction of Kitsch Dino fashion for adults – using our own exclusive designs – which has been very well received and already picked up by Time Out and Shortlist magazines. In the kids range, we’re ready for Christmas with an array of woodland animal toys, educational craft kits, and just recently we launched our long-awaited NHM exclusive Dinosaur Top Trumps and Dinosaur Guess Who. We’re also expanding the kids’ personalised products offering with new personalised Christmas stockings and new dinosaur pyjamas.

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