Monthly Archives: August 2015

100 days of using Shopify POS tills

We’ve just passed our 100 day mark since the introduction of Shopify till system in our retail shops. In case you don’t intend on reading the whole post, i’ll tell you now that we’re still using Shopify and i think it’s safe to say it is a success.

In this post I want to cover us going live, what features we use at the moment and what our next steps are.

Choosing Shopify

Our previous system was never properly setup and as a team we didn’t take advantage of its potential. I could of stuck with it but I saw this as an opportunity to explore using the latest shopping cart technology from the web. I’m a big fan of popular tools that I’ve seen ‘scale’ regardless of the sector. I had heard about lots of arts/museum sector specific approaches which quite frankly scare me. As a sector we aren’t really all that ‘special’ when it comes to doing normal things like running a shop. So instead of looking at any of these potentially risky solutions where the market is small and we can get tied to one small supplier I just went straight to looking at what local shops and market stalls were using as i’m treating our retail as a small business so what better place to look. All of these were using web services via tablet or phone. Having attended a Shopify workshop back in June 2014 run by Keir Whitaker I felt that it had what the other systems had to offer so why not use this – no long spec document just a nose for good software and services.

Fast forward to launch

After an initial alpha use of Shopify using the free trial (tip: use the 7 day trial as your alpha test so you have no money to front) I felt happy to use Shopify with the public. Our fallback was to keep the old system plugged in and as we use a separate card reader, we could easily manually take orders with that and a calculator if we really got jammed up.

We decided to launch in early May at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. We decided to do one shop first and then if all went well we’d do live at M Shed, followed by our tills used by the exhibition team.

As Shopify is pretty user friendly we showed Helen how to add products, how to make a custom sale and how to cash up at the end of the day in less than 20mins. It turns out that Helen had never used an iPad before, let alone Shopify. But within minutes Helen was comfortable enough to plough on with only a little arm twisting from me.

Rather than add 100s of products to the inventory we decided to use the ‘custom sale’ option on the first day and then add any purchased products to the inventory retrospectively. As a word of advice, i think this approach makes the most sense instead of committing many hours to adding products to the Shopify inventory which you may or may not run with. Instead, add as you go.

On the first day I made sure that we had both Zahid and myself available. I spent the first ‘live’ hour down in the shop. Within an hour it was clear that I wasn’t needed. By the day of the first day Helen and Zahid knew way more than I did – in this type of case i’m glad to be made redundant!

After two days Helen asked us to remove the old system as she was very happy with how things were progressing. We have a small retail team of four part-time staff and a small bank of casual staff. Within 2-3 weeks I was getting staff thanking me for introducing the new system. In my previous two years I’ve never had such positive feedback. After the third week we also replaced our M Shed till too. On week six we also used this for our third till which is used to buy tickets for our exhibition (William Hogarth: Painter and Printmaker).

Helpful documentation and support

One of the things I love about modern day web services is that they normally offer good documentation and Shopify is no different. This not only helps us to learn about how to best use the service but saves any of us having to write lengthy support documentation. I’ve since used their live online chat a few times when i’ve got stuck and it’s 24/7. A service i’m sure many of the museum POS vendors can only dream of offering. You can ring, live chat, email or use the forums. All of which help staff when none of us digital types are around, which is the way it should be.

Mobile app for the win

I have a great retail team led by Helen Lewis. In theory I just need to know our current financial position. The mobile app lets me see live sales income for the last 90 days. This alone is a leap forward for POS and i get ‘POS envy’ now by all other retail managers whenever I show them. Furthermore I can see what product inventory level is is at anytime and i can scan barcodes to make sales if i really wanted to. I’m currently keeping an eye on our Hogarth mugs, scarfs, a book by Louise Brown and drinks. All new products that I like to track.

Reporting sales

To keep the cost down there a number of features which don’t come as standard and reporting is one of them. We have paid for the reporting features which we mostly use for splitting vat/non-vat and exhibition tickets at this point. In the next few months we will really get our head around what reports we want.

A few problems and issues

We’re very happy so far with our shopify service but there have been a few teething problems worth mentioning.

We hit our first major technical snag – till drawer says No!

Our exhibition till has a unique challenge compared to our retail shops. We have over 50 visitor assistants. For each day of the exhibition we may have any one or more of them on the till. This poses a few challenges, mainly around processes and training. Some people had no problems but others really struggled with the idea of an iPad for a till. Nothing too bad. But then it happened. I got a call to say that the exhibition till wasn’t working. I went down and sure enough it was working. False alarm right? Another call 30mins later. This time I could see the problem. Although we could use the Shopify app, the till cash drawer refused to open. Turn it off, turn it back on. Boom. Fixed…. so I thought. This kept happening, time after time. Anyway it turns out that although Shopify will run perfectly happily offline, the cash drawer NEEDS wifi to be triggered to open. A major problem that made lots of visitor assistants quite reluctant to use the till. The problem only occurred on one of the four tills. Zahid tracked down the issue to the router. Apparently there is a known issue with some routers – despite it working fine with the same router elsewhere. Zahid swapped out the router and the problem hasn’t come back. Luckily for us we could use the shop as a fallback till but this wasn’t the best customer service period.

Costs of goods isn’t standard

By default there isn’t a feature to include the ‘cost of goods – COGS’ which are essential for knowing the price you paid against the retail price and thus your profit margin. How did I miss that in the alpha! Luckily one of the reasons I chose Shopify was for its adaptability. Shopify has a useful feature to allow them or third parties to make apps for beefing up the default service. One of these, deepmine looks like it has COGS so we’ll be trialling this very soon.

Not many hints and tricks yet

I haven’t found much information about using Shopify POS as it is still quite new. This means that it hasn’t been super fast to find answers to some of our issues. One of the reasons i’m writing this is to increase that information pool. Oh and there is no public roadmap for what’s coming so follow the blog to stay in the loop

What’s coming next

Now that we’re comfortable with Shopify we’re starting to turn our attention to the next phase of work.

  • Trial deepmine app to get COGs and deep reporting
  • Setup better custom reports to help staff
  • Offer group workshops on basic training and reporting
  • Add inventory levels to all products
  • Add photos to all products
  • Explore email upsell and sales offers

Get in touch

I’ve had several chats with other museums who spotted by last blog post asking about Shopify. Please do get in touch by phone 0117 922 3571 or if you want me to help you with anything around our use of Shopify. We’ll also be happy to be paid consultants to set up your service if you need a proper hand.

Museums & Temporary Exhibitions: Getting the price right

It is only in the recent history of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives that we have been charging an entry fee for some of the temporary exhibitions – the first paid exhibition ‘Eye for Fashion’ took place in early 2012.

In the intervening time a number of approaches to pricing have been tried and tested including, for example, a ‘pay what you think’ model for the Photographic Portrait Prize in 2013. We are currently planning a similar model – ‘Pay what you can’ – for the Death exhibition (24 October 2015—13 March 2016). Over the past few years we have also been collecting data on pricing in the exhibition surveys via questions about ‘value for money’ – responses to which vary according to the exhibition in question. Despite having some data related to pricing, further research on pricing is needed. As such I undertook a short two week exploratory research project looking into temporary exhibition pricing and I discuss some of the findings here.

The research involved four days of survey collection whilst the Hogarth exhibition was on in Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (early July 2015). Hogarth Exhibitions CartoonThe survey consisted of nine questions focused on the pricing of temporary exhibitions (see below). A total of 39 surveys were completed by a random sample of museum visitors. The key questions to highlight are three and four. These questions ask about firstly the price point of an exhibition that directly appeals to the visitor, and secondly about promotions that would help to incentivise exhibitions which have less direct appeal. The aim is to understand how pricing and promotion relate to different kinds of exhibitions.

  1. Have you been to or intend to go to the Hogarth exhibit? Y/N
  2. Did you come to the museum specifically to see the Hogarth exhibit? Y/N
  3. Thinking about an exhibition that appeals to you, which statement do you most agree with?
  • I am unlikely to pay for a temporary exhibition
  • £5 is too high, but would pay a lower entrance fee
  • £5 is reasonable and would be prepared to pay it
  • I would not be put off if the price was higher
  1. If you were unsure about paying to enter an exhibition, would any of the following promotions make you more likely to buy a ticket?
  • Pay once and return as many times as you wish
  • A discounted annual pass for temporary exhibits
  • Discount in the Museum Cafe and Shop
  • Discount for visits during quiet periods e.g. weekday mornings
  • Free tea or coffee with adult ticket
  • 2 for 1
  • Family tickets
  • 50% off promotion
  • None
  • Other (please specify)
  1. If we had a ticketing promotion how would you like to hear about it?
  2. Have you previously paid to visit a temporary exhibit in this museum or M-Shed? Y/N
  3. Have you previously paid to visit a temporary exhibit in other museums and art galleries? Y/N
  4. Have you bought anything in the shop or cafe on your visit? Y/N
  5. Do you understand why there is a charge for this exhibition and where the money raised from ticket fees goes? Y/N

In line with the previous visitor feedback on ‘value for money’, the results from the survey suggest that paid entry  is not necessarily a barrier to visitors, nor is the current price point of £5. Moreover, the results potentially suggest that a higher price point would not always negatively affect the decision to pay for a temporary exhibition. Below I highlight two key findings and then suggest some further questions that may need addressing with further research.

Finding One

The graph below shows combined data from the Q.1 Have you been to or intend to go to the Hogarth exhibit? and Q.3. ‘Thinking about an exhibition that appeals to you, which statement do you most agree with?’. It shows the following:

  • The majority (69%) of all respondents who had and had not been into Hogarth agree with the statement ‘£5 is reasonable and would be prepared to pay it’.
  • Of the 22 users who had been to Hogarth, 41% agreed with the statement ‘I would not be put off if the price was higher’. A potential insight that the audience who are visiting Hogarth (60% over 55) would not be put off by higher ticket prices.
  • Only a small minority (2.5%) of all respondents agreed with the statements ‘I am unlikely to pay for a temporary exhibition’ or ‘£5 is too high, but would pay a lower entrance fee’.

q1 v q4

Wider Insight: There may be a need to re-assess the fixed price structure of £5/£4 con/Free U16s across all paid temporary exhibitions in order to maximise the different offers of each one. We know that different exhibitions appeal to different audiences and therefore further research may be needed on how prices points are perceived by key target audiences for each exhibition.

Finding Two

The graph below shows data for Q.4 – ‘If you were unsure about paying to enter an exhibition, would any of the following promotions make you more likely to buy a ticket?’ It shows the following:

  • 85% of users selected at least one pricing incentive option which would make them more likely to buy a ticket for an exhibit they were unsure about. 15% selected the ‘none’ option, meaning they would not be convinced by a pricing incentive to buy a ticket for an exhibit they were unsure about.
  • The most popular discount pricing options were ‘2 for 1’ (41%) and ‘Free tea or coffee with an adult ticket’ (28%). This result is perhaps unsurprising, however, pricing discounts would need further research.
  • The ticketing schemes we presented were also popular. The option of ‘pay once and return as many times as you wish’ was selected by 31% of users and the Discounted Annual pass was selected by 15%.
  • Of those who said they had paid for exhibition in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery or M-Shed previously (Q.6), 28% selected an annual pass. This may indicate a stronger desire for an annual pass from already returning visitors.


Wider Insight: The data in this graph is indicative of openness among users to re-consider exhibits that they are unsure about given the right pricing incentive or promotion. This needs further investigation, including experimenting with pricing incentives.

Emerging questions and issues

As hoped at the outset of this short piece of research, a number of questions and issues emerged which need further investigation. The first one concerns what place temporary exhibitions have in the overall experience of a museum visit, for example, ‘are visitors using multiple offers in the museum: the permanent exhibitions, the temporary exhibitions (paid and free), the shop, and the café?’ Related to this, there is a need to better understand how temporary exhibitions relate to other paid-for elements in the museum. For example, ‘if the café is currently doing well, should we use its success as a means to increase visitor spend in the shop and in temporary exhibits (i.e. use the café as a direct marketing opportunity)?’

Perhaps the widest reaching insight, which would require further research, is that arguably the primary barrier to entry to any given exhibition remains a perceived lack of interest in a given exhibition. Previous research from the Hidden Museum project, however, revealed that a perceived lack of interest among visitors is often founded on assumptions and bias, but that this can be resolved given the right tools and approach.

Finally, it is part of my task as the new user researcher (audience development) to design and facilitate research which can address these questions and feed the findings back into decisions about how we shape the temporary exhibition offers that we have across Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

If you have any questions about the digital or audience development research we do at Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives feel free to get in touch with me