Metal toy figures in a shop

The shop, like the café, is seen by some museums as merely an income generator. For visitors, however, it’s often an important element of their trip, and for some, it’s the highlight! Before curators get upset and defensive about the time and effort they’ve put into creating displays, it’s good to take a step back and consider what is happening in the museum shop. What’s the “buy-in”?

The museum shop can be an important bookend to a visit. The right products offer links to the collections, and the stories within them and can fix the memory of a visit. A souvenir taken back home represents a bit of that “culture” from the museum or the creativity of local artists and makers. The shop may also enable a connection to a new audience.

“Our shop is definitely a window on themes in the Museum, tells stories we don’t actually tell directly in the Museum, and encourages emotional responses similar to those generated by the Museum.” —Dinah Winch, The Huguenot Museum.

Museum shops are also places where people can extend their learning and engagement further through books, art kits, and replicas. Toys are also important, and a museum “mascot” toy can be a key link back to a museum visit. Watch Pete describe how important Spike the orange dinosaur toy is to his family’s visit to Maidstone Museum in our film about sensory backpacks. Spike actually becomes the guide on their trips to the museum and plays a big part in the whole family’s enjoyment of it.

Sensory pocket money items are also a useful thing to have on sale in the museum shop. There are so many options available and likely to be something to link to any collection theme. Sensory toys, such as those pictured here, are attractive to all children, but for some SEND children, they may be the few things in your shop they can actually play with and buy. Being able to purchase something with some help from parents and friendly shop staff lets them have important social interactions, build confidence and gain independence skills—just like any other child.


Selection of fidget toys on a yellow background

Why not link up your shop, curatorial, and learning teams with a local special school and local artists and makers to create some new sensory products for your museum that are inspired by your building and collections?

Case study from the River and Rowing Museum (Word)

Mugs and keyrings decorated with art created by SEND students Young SEND person seeing their art on a shop stock item for the first time