How to grow online sales

A case study from Art UK's e-commerce platform
Digital Retail
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Rebecca Atkinson
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Celebrity prints from the National Portrait Gallery on the Art UK Shop
Celebrity prints from the National Portrait Gallery on the Art UK Shop

The Art UK Shop is an e-commerce platform launched by Art UK in 2018. There are currently 76 collections using the platform, including large nationals (such as the National Portrait Gallery and Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) as well as regional collections (such as Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum), universities (like the University of Dundee) and heritage organisations (such as Scouts Heritage Service).

Museums can participate in print-on-demand and image licensing, which are fulfilled by our supplier Heritage Digital. Although revenue is driven by print sales, organisations can also sell their merchandise and sales have been successful, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.

The shop is a way for collections to generate income without investing any capital. Art UK does not take a share of the revenue – after the supplier's share is deducted, all the money goes to collections.

In 2018-2019 (our first financial year) gross sales were more than £42,000. In the 2019-2020 financial year, they were over £100,000 and revenue for 2020-2021 is on target to reach £250,000.

The Art UK Shop monthly gross sales 2018-2020

Despite the challenges of Covid for the entire sector, our online shop has come into its own this year, offering a robust e-commerce solution for collections that have been unable to fulfil orders.

We launched print-to-order products over the summer so collections could generate revenue through merchandise that requires no financial outlay or requirement to store.

We grew sales significantly over the first lockdown, using Google Shopping to target customers who were increasingly shopping online during this time.

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Management and technical infrastructure

The Art UK Shop is a custom-built platform. Museums have their own portal to access sales data, analytics and to upload merchandise. The shop is operated by a full-time manager, and overseen by Art UK’s head of commercial with support from digital marketing and social media managers.  

The team also has the support of a steering panel, including industry experts, consultants and representatives from museums and galleries.

We have a 30-month development strategy and the team reviews activity, marketing effectiveness and future plans in line with strategic objectives on a monthly basis.

How we have grown sales

Art UK ranks highly in search engine results, attracting three million annual unique users and providing a ready-made audience for artwork-related products. We also market across the following areas:

Organic search

We create galleries of prints and gifts based on themes and popular subject matter as well as collection pages and artist pages. To optimize SEO and generate traffic and revenue, we write keyword-rich copy, promote pages online, and encourage our partners to share too.

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Pay per click advertising (PPC)

We run PPC campaigns on behalf of collections through Google’s advertising grant.

Manchester Art Gallery does not run any e-commerce advertising of its own and Art UK’s PPC campaign contributes 1% of its shop traffic and 5% of sales, with a high click-through rate of 13.5%.

Google Shopping is an important sales channel for gifts and prints and has a high return on investment, particularly over the festive period.

Social media

We use organic social posts to engage and remarket to our audience with broadly appealing products. We use paid posts to reach new audiences with themed print and gift ranges, targeting niche interests.

Email

Our newsletters have a 49% open rate and 14% click-through rate, promoting products to Art UK’s engaged audience.  

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Pooling resources with collections

Collaboration is at the heart of the Art UK Shop’s success. We work with collections on marketing, providing the digital assets for their own promotion, and guidance on creating content and marketing on social.

In sharing marketing across collections, we can work together as a sector to amplify individual e-commerce offerings.

Camilla Stewart is head of commercial at Art UK

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