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 Post subject: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 3:55 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 2:46 pm
Posts: 1898
Location: Pac NW, via North Florida
Other than not wanting to keep up with the website, can anyone explain to me why tourist RRs and RR museums rarely have their gift shop stock available (or even listed) for purchase online? I was looking for something specific for a operation, and they had the old standard or mentioning their gift shop, they only had a photo from the opposite side of the room showing the room it's in, and hours listed.
It seems to me that museums and tourist operations are missing a serious fund raising opportunity among those who went and later realized they should have bought something specific or know they'll never go but wanted to show their support anyway.
Just wondering...

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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 4:20 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:56 am
Posts: 596
Location: Rochester, NY
most likely reason: no one in the organization knows how to do it! ;)
often websites will be contracted, very basic, and not run or maintained by anyone from the museum itself..they have a basic webpage just because they think they should, just so basic info about the museum is "out there"..having an "on-line store" is another level of complexity that most smaller museums probably dont know how to, or dont want to, deal with..

Scot


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 4:36 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:25 pm
Posts: 1790
You can request or download a mail order form from our website. (corrected link)
http://www.dctrolley.org/shop.htm

A web store requires time and talent that we don't have.

Wesley


Last edited by wesp on Thu Aug 08, 2013 9:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 4:46 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 10:28 pm
Posts: 205
Let me expand on this slightly. In general, I've found tourist railroads and museums tend to fall into one or two categories. You have some museums that attempt to run the gift shop as a business. They have a knowledgeable staff, a good selection and respond well to vendors. No surprise that these places are usually bustling with visitors. Some of these actually do have an online presence.

Then, you have the other half, which I've seen all too often. Occasionally open, questionably stocked, and some won't even respond when a vendor tries to send them a product to sell in the gift shop. They have a gift shop that exists because of the general rule that a tourist operation should have a gift shop.

I hate to say it guys, but we are well beyond the bell curve on a lot of items that the normal tourist is looking for. You have to make it easy for them or they will simply put that money towards other uses.
Kevin


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 4:48 pm 

Joined: Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:27 am
Posts: 24
Lee,

I'll speak about our organization American Steam Railroad. One of the main reasons our group has not expanded its online gift store is finding the manpower to pack the product after its been purchased on a consistant bases. Being all volunteer and everyone having day jobs it can become a very time consuming very quickly to sit and pack 50 boxes because you got 50 orders that day and most people expect you to be as speedy as Amazon or one the big names out there.

The other issue you run into is having the inventory on hand. You need some place to store it and keep inventory controls on it. I would have to check with my accountant but I remember having to do the counting at the end of the year for the product and figure out how much we sold and and how much was left in the inventory at the end the of the year. Then there is the sales tax issue. You still need to pay the sales tax at least in the State of Ohio if somone purchases a product from you who lives in Ohio.

I have looked high and low to try to find a honest drop ship company where the product could be stored at there warehouse and when the order comes in for a fee they send it out and do the counting at the end of the year.

So if I could solve the manpower issue which in reality means you need to do the samething as the big boys is the pay somone to come in pack boxes for you.

Steven Harvey
American Steam Railroad


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 6:51 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 03, 2004 9:42 pm
Posts: 2423
Note: This is only my personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the official view of any organization(s) I may work with.

The problem lies in several areas.

1) Often nobody at the organization has the technical know-how to do it, or those that do have more urgent demands on their time.

2) Many tourist railroad gift shops don't have quite the same instant inventory control system that Walmart does, so what happens when you order a nifty little blue engine for you child's birthday, only to find it's out of stock since they sold the last two today? They also have to somehow integrate online sales with in store sales in the inventory system.

2B) For "standard" gift shop items like that Thomas engine, or books or videos, there's a small outfit based in Seattle that seems to specialize in selling things online, and sometimes doing it at prices that are lower than what the gift shop may be buying the stuff for, let alone their selling price! You may have heard of them, they're called Amazon.com.

I run an online railroad bookstore. I once had a local author angrily ask me how in the #%!@^ I was selling his books so cheap, as he (the author) couldn't even buy them for that price. I explained I didn't actually inventory them, and have no control over Amazon's pricing scheme. He wasn't overly impressed with that answer.

3) Once you sell the item online, then you have to have an employee find the item in inventory or on the gift shop shelves, package it, address it and ship it. Again, the gnomes in Seattle have the upper hand with automated warehouses in various locations with regularly scheduled UPS pickups etc. You may find your gift shop employee has to drive 1/2 hour to the closest drop off point for quick shipping, or they can use the post office, and have folks grumble about the slow delivery times. You also have to try and estimate shipping costs when you sell the items.

4) You have to deal with the hassle of processing credit cards online, returns, online security, etc. etc.

Personally I have suggested that a favorite operation of mine sell the stuff you can't buy on Amazon. i.e. T-shirts and Sweatshirts with the railroad's name and logo on them. That way we'd have a niche market and folks would have a reason to shop there. It would also reduce the inventory problem to a more manageable level of product flavors.

Of course you certainly can have a nice gift shop operation online. As with most (all?) things they do, Strasburg does it quite well. They also do a lot of model railroad stuff as well, or so it seems form a distance. A couple of the other large operations also do so, the B&O Museum often e-mails me about items they're offering. But the ones doing it seem to be mostly the larger gift shops, which is logical.


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 7:13 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 8299
Location: Baltimore, MD
Gift shops, by their nature, tend to be about "impulse" purchases--post cards, souvenir booklets, shirts, snacks, etc. Seldom do they have truly unique items such as a custom scale model, limited edition prints, or slices of 98's old flues, and those collectibles are often hocked more at members than to patrons. The well-stocked railroad book store at Strasburg is the exception, not the rule.

One place with which I've worked markets used books in their specific field as they get donated by members or their estates; the gift shop manager has a brisk business going in hawking those limited-run out-of-print books to members and fellow fans at the going Amazon/whatever rate, with no need to advertise and seldom any need to even show them to non-member visitors. I hear the story is the same at two or so other museum gift shops of similar size/operation in that field.


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 11:00 pm 

Joined: Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:18 pm
Posts: 2050
uhm.. go visit the museum and buy....?

very tru, not everybody is internet savvy or computer savvy or website making savvy, you really should hit the road and visit these museums.


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 12:20 am 
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Joined: Fri Oct 24, 2008 9:05 pm
Posts: 655
Location: MA
Sheelburne Fallls Trolley Museume has one.
http://www.zazzle.com/SFTM_STORE

Also the F40PH Preservation Society
www.cafepress.com/f40ph


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 8:55 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:55 pm
Posts: 677
Location: Warren, PA
I made a purchase recently from the Amtrak 'company store' online recently. See http://store.amtrak.com/


I was a little bemused when it was acknowleged by Staples Order Fulfilment. Yeah, they got that.

Apparently they do it all for Amtrak. Now while Amtrak may be "big", it would seem to me that this particular niche is more the size of a medium-large tourist railroad gift shop. And they've outsourced the entire thing to Staples.... who apparently have entered the field and are number 2 behind Amazon: http://www.packworld.com/machinery/conv ... ase-making

The item that I was after sold out in less than 24 hours with quantity of under 200, and you could literally watch the inventory drop by refreshing the screen. Fascinating.

Seeing as how they don't have a 'brick and mortar' store to mix inventory with this may make some sense. But in terms of a paradigm shift of how to outsource, this is interesting. Neither Amtrak or Staples makes a very big deal of it. This is a definite cut above the dozen or so items they had online a few years ago - most of which were leftover promotional items from events and the trains themselves. This is by anybody's definition, Amtrak's retail and hobby shop, and it's apparently pretty hands-off.

The observable paradigm shift here is that if you look at what they really have for sale, prices, quantities... it really looks like a tourist railroad gift shop operation to me. If it works for them at those volumes and Stapes can do it as well as I saw, I'm very curious.

It would seem to me that the infrastructure necessary to support an online 'store' for operations like Amazon and Staples would certainly lend itself out to subcontracting if there is excess capacity to sell. We have a large mail-order clothing facility here locally, and they've consolidated six other clothing order systems into here - while to the outside world they still look like six companies. Getting the 'front end' so that it is stand-alone by operation is the trick, and it's pretty darn seamless in this example.


Last edited by Randy Gustafson on Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:45 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:42 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 8299
Location: Baltimore, MD
Randy Gustafson wrote:
I made a purchase recently from the Amtrak 'company store' online recently. See http://store.amtrak.com/

I was a little bemused when it was acknowleged by Staples Order Fulfilment. Yeah, they got that.


A somewhat similar set-up is used by Norfolk Southern, which contracts with a Maryland-based company for production and order fulfillment of company calendars, promotional giveaways (mugs, pens, etc.), and custom-embroidered apparel (souvenirs, annual awards, safety campaigns, etc.). Ironically, that company was housed for a short while in a building overlooking a CSX yard, right next to the yard's access road!

I had the chance to ask the owner of a business that also sells "gifts"--a downtown brewpub. Now, it's said that brewpub souvenirs are as much a "license to print money" as rock concert souvenirs--high mark-up and ready and willing buyers. This place is in a thriving, high-traffic downtown location right near the arena, ballpark, etc., so they do a brisk business in t-shirts, caps, glasses, gift cards, and the like. I asked him how much traffic they get from people trying to order stuff online or by mail. "There's a REASON we don't sell the stuff online!" he said. "It's a royal pain, you have to ship it, and we get that maybe once every two months. It's just not worth it. We're here to sell beer and food!" Nonetheless, I've been guilty of being that "pain" in decades past, ordering railroad-themed brewpub shirts and glasses through the mail. Half of them are now "extinct" and collectible, of course......


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:55 am 

Joined: Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:07 pm
Posts: 450
Location: B'more Maryland
I've talked with a number of organizations about just this very issue.

When someone mentions an online store, the FIRST thing I ask them is "what's your fulfillment plan?".

It might seem like it's easy money, but when you factor in all of the headaches mentioned here (one lost shipment might easily make the whole thing a loss for the year), you realize that it just isn't worth it for hard goods.

On the other hand, having online ticketing, event registration and membership capabilities is 100% necessary for any organization that wants to grow and prosper in 2013.


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 10:19 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 11:07 am
Posts: 518
Bobharbison wrote:
Note: This is only my personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the official view of any organization(s) I may work with.

The problem lies in several areas.

.....

4) You have to deal with the hassle of processing credit cards online, returns, online security, etc. etc.



There also are potential issues with unrelated business tax and collection of state sales tax and the related tax returns.

Bob H


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 11:08 am 

Joined: Mon Sep 26, 2011 2:06 pm
Posts: 51
I found this thread of great interest as we here at the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad have been wanting to put our gift shop items on-line for some time. We tried the Yahoo store avenue but that was a bust. We've since discussed this subject with the vendor of all our MRSR items (shirts, hats, etc.) and have finally brought something together. As several folks have pointed out, an on-line store takes resources that most tourist railroads may not have available. Although we have volunteers that have the expertise to tackle such a project, what made it easy for us this time is that the vendor is actually handling the technical side of things. All we have to do is provide a link on our web site. The vendor will also be handling the shipping of items purchased, which means no added labor for us. We hope this will be a win-win situation for us and our vendor. Our new on-line gift shop will be going live very, very soon, so please check out our web site at www.mrsr.com for all you gift-giving needs!

Brian Wise
General Manager
Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad


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 Post subject: Re: Museum gift shops rarely online, why?
PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2013 8:02 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:48 am
Posts: 341
Location: Kingston NY
I had tried to run an on-line store for our small all-volunteer museum but it got to be a lot of work, didn't make appreciable revenue, and I discontinued it. I experimented with a few web based e-store solutions, but reconciling inventory and handing backorders was tricky. I eventually settled on a Paypal solution (mainly because it handled credit cards with the least hassle), but even then I never found a satisfactory means to automatically calculate shipping costs. We lost money on a few orders that came in from the opposite coast where shipping ate the profit and then some.

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