July 31, 2017
By Bradley Platz
Attending the 2017 MSA conference in Pittsburgh was a genuinely rewarding experience for me. I found it so valuable to connect with other retailers, and to share strategies, while making important professional connections. Being recognized by MSA for ‘Best Store Web Presence’ this year is an incredible honor and I wanted to share some insights from my experience with other members.
I love eCommerce. Learning how to effectively sell online has opened so many doors for me both in the museum community, as an artist, and as an independent business owner in San Francisco. In addition to my work at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, my wife and I run a commercial art gallery in the the city. We have been selling original artwork online since we opened our doors in 2010. The explosive growth of eCommerce in the last decade has led to all types of businesses re-evaluating their online strategies, and commercial art galleries, like Museum Stores, have had to adapt in order to survive. Selling art online is a lot like selling anything online. I believe quality pictures and good design speak more than words, and interesting and engaging content will always drive sales. My goal is to make buying art online easy, fun, and to create a personalized experience that keeps customers coming back for more.
I take the same approach with my work at the museums and believe that a well-built online business should be easy to run on the back-end, and equally easy to shop on the front-end. My time, and my staff’s time, is best spent thinking creatively about marketing or generating interesting content, instead of wasting our resources on technical issues or order management.
In Pittsburgh, I was honored at this year’s MSA conference to give a presentation entitled ‘Taking it to the Cloud: Re-platforming the Online Museum Store’, where I discussed our recent online store upgrade and gave advice to others seeking to do the same. Keeping your online technologies up-to-date with customer expectations can be challenging, as those online customer expectations are constantly evolving. Thankfully, cloud-based eCommerce software can keep up because it’s built and maintained like consumer software, much like facebook for example, where new features are introduced all the time and we collectively adapt and learn how to use them almost without thinking about it.
Our re-platforming project for shop.famsf.org started in mid-2016, though we began laying the groundwork almost six months prior. At the end of 2015 we developed a comprehensive RFP and began the project of replatforming the online store to Shopify Plus. We partnered with two Shopify Plus Partner agencies, one for design and the other for development, and as project manager I was responsible for coordinating front-end design and back-end integrations with both agencies and internal stakeholders. We successfully re-launched on Shopify Plus on October 5, 2016. I’m proud to say, on time and on budget.
Most of the project work was about gathering internal buy-in, identifying project scope, gathering documentation, and budgeting. Once we had laid the foundation and got to work, the actual project timeline, from kick-off to completion, was just under 4 months.
The custom integrations that we built between Shopify Plus and other institutional software systems have allowed us to manage the site with ease, maintain clean data, and spend less time troubleshooting, and more time selling. Some examples of custom development include:
- Inventory Management & POS Integration
- Membership Database Integration
- Print on Demand Integration
In addition to the custom integration work, we were able to take advantage of several existing integrations and apps (another benefit of cloud-based software). One key integration that we leveraged for our re-platforming project was with Mailchimp, which we use for email marketing.
Besides site design, merchandising, photography, and copywriting, I believe the key driver for online sales is email marketing. You can have all the right pieces beautifully put together in your online store, but it won’t generate revenue unless you can drive targeted traffic to your site.
MailChimp for Shopify is a free application developed by Mailchimp that connects our Shopify store with our institutional MailChimp account. This integration gives us the ability to create targeted email campaigns based on buying behavior, to track eCommerce revenue by campaign, and much more. This is just one of the hundreds of apps available in the app store which expand the core functionality of the platform without the need for custom development.
Taking the online museum store to the cloud was one of the best decisions we have made. We worked very hard to provide a brick-and-mortar-type of personalized, white-glove experience online—one that not only listed and sold items, but that supported our institutional mission to educate and inform our audience. I firmly believe that content and commerce go hand-in-hand, and the most successful online retailers understand this. No longer can we simply put our products online and sit back and cross our fingers. As non-profit retailers, we need to educate and explain why these products matter, we need to generate demand, and use our online stores as our brand ambassadors to reach new and engaged audiences.
Bradley Platz is the Retail & eCommerce Manager at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young and Legion of Honor museums.