All About Glass

You are here

2016 E-Commerce Summit

All About Glass

Executive Summary

In October of 2016, The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) assembled a group of museum professionals to discuss e-commerce, its role as a platform extending the museum’s mission, and some of the conceptual and pragmatic aspects of commercial transactions conducted on the Internet. The summit connected CMoG staff with outside guests representing business functions across museums, including digital media, information technology, retail, marketing, and experience planning.

The meeting took place over two days and evenings. A series of presentations on topics ranging from commerce projects bridging physical and digital experiences to omnichannel retail and customer relationship management were interspersed with statements about museums’ accomplishments, challenges, and five-year projections. The presentations, coupled with questions from CMoG’s e-commerce team, determined topics for facilitated forums held on day two. To establish a shared understanding of the current state of e-commerce at CMoG, participants worked through a series of online and on-site use case scenarios to purchase and pick-up tickets, reserve a hands-on glass working activity, and purchase retail products. These experiences gave participants a set of common reference points when discussing the challenges and opportunities for CMoG and the overall field.

This white paper documents summit presentations and discussions, focusing on the key themes and insights that emerged over the two-day event. How might we think about e-commerce less as a series of transactions and more strategically? How do we maximize the opportunities for revenue generation without compromising the collections that we hold in the public trust? What’s really important to our audiences? When and why do you choose to build versus buy software? How can we support a more strategic approach through data-driven decision-making? What staff resources are required to support these new internal processes? What’s the role of mobile in e-commerce? The summit provided an unusual opportunity for a sustained conversation with a diversity of perspectives that is relevant for all museums considering the future of e-commerce.

2016 eCommerce Summit attendees


Outside the cultural sector, e-commerce and e-services have become key components of daily life. While our audience's expectations are increasingly shaped by the online world, museums largely still operate according to a “bricks and mortar” model, with revenue generation and transactional workflows managed independently in departmental silos.

Like many museums, The Corning Museum of Glass manages a wide number of transactions with its patrons from admission and glassmaking experience ticketing to class registration, retail sales, and memberships. These functions are supported by several different systems and managed by diverse internal stakeholder groups. As a starting point in developing a more strategic approach to e-commerce, CMoG hosted a summit in October 2016 that brought together seven leaders in the museum e-commerce space with CMoG’s e-commerce team including staff from IT, digital media, retail, finance, and senior leadership. Over the course of two days, summit participants engaged in a broad-ranging discussion of e-commerce, defined by CMoG as any online transaction where a payment is initiated or modified.

Background: The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, is a museum of glass art and science displaying the world’s best collection of art and historical glass spanning 3,500 years. Beyond the collections, public programs, and glass science galleries, the museum offers live demonstrations, hands-on visitor glassmaking activities, studio courses, one of the largest museum retail stores in the U.S., and the world’s foremost research library on the art and history of glass. The museum averages more than 400,000 visitors annually and is the fifth most visited art museum in the state of New York (AAMD, 2016). CMoG manages a wide number of transactions with its patrons from admission and glassmaking experience ticketing to class registration, retail sales, and memberships. These functions are managed by diverse internal stakeholder groups through several different systems.

The Corning Museum of Glass entered museum e-commerce space through a number of organic, isolated initiatives over the last decade. Realizing the need for a more proactive approach, the museum formed its first e-commerce strategy team in 2016. The team is composed of staff from finance, ticketing, retail, IT, digital media, and the administration. The team, facilitated by the Director of Finance, Dave Togni and Chief Digital Officer Scott Sayre, had a mandate to define a new integrated approach to e-commerce and develop both a strategic and tactical plan for determining priorities and moving forward.

The Summit Structure and Organization

The summit took place October 5 through 7, 2016, with a mix of presentations, in-museum activities, and roundtable discussions. Participants were asked to develop presentations addressing one of the following focus areas identified by the museum’s e-commerce strategy team:

  1. A 360° view of the customer
    1. Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) integration
    2. Single sign-on
  2. Opportunities for mobile
  3. Analytics and analysis
  4. New products and services
    1. Collections integration of products and services
    2. Digital products
    3. Digital ticketing
    4. Alternative payment gateways (Google, Amazon, PayPal, etc.)
    5. Managing multiple storefronts
    6. Marketing channels and strategies
  5. E-commerce team structure and workflow

Facilitated by Laura Mann of Frankly, Green + Webb, discussions held on day two provided opportunity for deeper exploration of topics highlighted during the presentations or otherwise identified by CMoG’s e-commerce team.

A pre-summit questionnaire asked participants to describe how e-commerce was defined in their institutions, including products and services sold online; mobile strategies; relationships between online and onsite offerings; use of third party retailers; systems; and staffing. Responses were shared with participants prior to the convening. To establish a shared understanding of the current state of e-commerce at CMoG, each participant worked through a series of online and on-site use case scenarios using a Visa gift card to purchase and pick-up tickets, reserve a hands-on glass working activity, and purchase retail products.


Presentation 1: Exploring Art and Commerce in Phygital Spaces

Michele Tobin, former Retail Director at the Walker Art Center, spoke about new ways of thinking about museum retail by taking an inside look at a special project called Intangibles.1 Hailed as, “blurring the boundaries between art, shopping and media” by the New York Times,2 this experimental approach to commerce bridged the gap between the physical and digital experience, and connected audiences with artists in new ways. The process that created Intangibles demonstrates how shifting perspective can inspire new retail models.

The idea for Intangibles emerged from a cross-departmental collaboration between Tobin and Emmet Byrne, the Walker’s the Design Director and Associate Curator of Design. Following the 2011 launch of a redesigned online shop, the two asked how the Walker shop differentiates itself in the digital space. They were happy with the look and functionality of the site but the larger Walker story, the institutional context, was missing. Beyond conveying a physical object for sale in the digital space, providing just another sales channel, could the digital platform influence the in-store experience? Walker retail initiated a series of projects to explore how the experiences online and in-store could move from parallel narratives to platforms informing one another, forming a hybrid of digital and physical environments or what Tobin calls “phygital” space.

The Walker’s first experiment in the phygital arena was the Mythical Beings holiday campaign. Gift guides developed for the characters sasquatch, siren, sphinx, and sorcerer came with a quiz to help shoppers identify which being they, or the person they were buying for, were. It started to get phygital when the Walker modeled in-store displays and shop staff engagement strategies around these online collections. Store customers would take the quiz on their personal devices, interact with staff wearing t-shirts featuring the different characters, and explore the in-store displays for their mythical being to inform their purchases.

Having learned that deeper engagement with customers was possible by creating a phygital environment, the Walker’s next experiment would be more ambitious. Intangibles is an online collection of artist-designed objects with no physical form. With help from Walker curators, artists and designers from various disciplines were invited to create deliberately ephemeral products and then encouraged to manipulate every aspect of the e-commerce platform. “The artists were told to use the shop’s website as a canvas, which meant everything—the text description, the images, the drop-down menu and pricing—were part of the experience. The product pages are ‘artworks in and of themselves,’” Tobin says.3

Sixteen artists created Intangibles, among them a suite of 12 personalized ringtones composed by Nico Muhly ($150 each); dance performance duo BodyCartography’s edition of 25 intimate performances for people in Minneapolis (15 minutes for $150, 30 minutes for $200, and 45 minutes for $250); photographer Alec Soth’s Disappear With Me, a Snapchat series of 25 original photos seen only by Soth and the buyer (edition of three, $100 each); a $10 voicemail from conceptual artist Martine Syms as she impersonates a member of the imaginary band XXXXX; and a Second Life property by artist Andreas Angelidakis (one million Linden dollars, subject to current exchange rates).

What if the shop brought attendance to the museum rather than the other way around?

At the Walker Art Center, Intangibles was visible on store and restaurant monitors and a large-scale backlit poster designed to resemble the online collection homepage, complete with top menu bar, search, and cart features. Each Intangible had its own QR code for in-store engagement and purchase. Intangibles could not be purchased at the register, so to buy it in-store, customers were required to use personal devices.

Museum retail exists at the tenuous juncture of art and commerce. To differentiate itself in the digital space, the Walker shop wanted to transcend its operational and financial roots, and venture into the artistic mission. As a result of the Intangibles project, the Walker shop became a gateway for artistic exchange, engaging customers in new ways both onsite and online. It exposed the online retail customer to contemporary art—shoppers could have a handbag, a mug, and a Snapchat in their cart at checkout—and advanced the dialogue about art and commercialism, internally and externally.

Tobin emphasized that Intangibles had its genesis in the Walker’s mission to act as a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences; more simply, to be a safe place for unsafe ideas and, in a word, “complicated”. Noteworthy from both a branding and retail point of view, Intangibles’ emphasis on mission speaks to the unique position retail occupies in museums. While most museums want to have strong brick and mortar and click-to-order business, many struggle to find a strategy that makes sense for them. Intangibles worked because it rang true with what the Walker is as an institution.

Presentation 2: Enabling Mobile Solutions for Museum Staff

Diana Pan, Chief Technology Officer at the Museum of Modern Art, presented MoMA’s mobile solutions as they benefit the museum’s front-line staff. Inspired by the Apple Store model, MoMA is embracing a mobile-first philosophy designed to improve the customer experience while providing maximum flexibility to museum operations. Between October 2014 and 2016, MoMA launched new membership, ticketing and retail applications, each developed around commonly-held technical criteria (REST API layer, iOS, cloud-based) and connected to activities that happen in the museum’s lobby.

MoMA’s lobby is a complex and often confusing environment with visitors entering from 53rd and 54th streets encountering a range of services including ticketing, membership, retail, and coat check. In addressing the systems behind these operations, MoMA aimed to provide better customer service, shorten queues, and, like the Apple Store model, enable mobility giving staff the option to approach visitors as they entered the lobby. Every MoMA front-line employee is trained to help all visitors and complete retail, membership, and ticketing transactions in any combination, eliminating the visitor’s need to bounce between desks for different services. From a technology perspective, MoMA was interested in faster transaction times and a cloud-based solution to avoid server maintenance, relocating work with vendors best able to handle related issues.

Do we buy or build? Pan is a self-proclaimed builder but approached each area by first looking at what museums and more importantly, for-profits, were using. Because a good iOS mobile solution did not exist for membership, MoMA elected to build their own application with integrations to the SalesforceCRM and other systems. Launched in October 2014, the membership system took 10 months to develop, work that was largely outsourced, including an off-shore team that MoMA continues to use.

From the ticketing perspective, MoMA chose to buy a solution from ACME, a young San Francisco-based company whose ticketing solution supported MoMA’s insistence on iOS and cloud-based JSON RESTful API layer, simple technical requirements often missing in the solutions adopted by museums. The eight-month project put MoMA in a loose co-development position with a young company to build custom features and help shape the product. While not how MoMA wants to work all of the time, Pan characterized the decision as the only option that met all of the museum’s requirements which are viewed as critical to future development of MoMA’s technology. Teamwork Retail, another instance where MoMA chose to buy, is the museum’s retail management solution and the last piece in the constellation of systems behind the museum’s lobby experience. Launched five days prior to the summit (October 2016), the system is still in beta and the extensive hands-on phased rollout that MoMA observes when introducing new solutions.

Cash is a big problem if you want to be mobile.

MoMA’s new front line applications are quickly outperforming the old systems, particularly during extremely busy periods when staff take out more iPads. Other successes include the ability to have pop-up shops as MoMA did at Art Basel Miami Beach 20154 and selling memberships at special events, activities made possible by mobile. In a time when cybersecurity is always a concern, Pan counts MoMA’s reduction of systems in scope for PCI compliance among her biggest accomplishments. It is Pan’s goal is to have no credit card data in any of MoMA’s systems; they are nearly to the point where none of the museum’s systems will be subject to cardholder PCI worries.

Pan identified user comfort and adoption among MoMA’s biggest challenges. Pan’s presentation focused on ‘enabling’ mobile but she acknowledged that ‘being’ mobile raises a different set of issues, not all of them technological. Staff prefer to engage the public from behind the barrier of a desk and visitors want nice paper tickets to save as souvenirs of their visit. Then there is the problem of cash. If a mobile-first philosophy theoretically allows for the elimination of the front desk, we still need furniture to facilitate printing tickets and handling cash. Pan believes the advantage to mobile is about providing maximum flexibility and new business opportunities. Ultimately, the situation to determine how extreme the mobile circumstance will be.

Presentation 3: Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

For the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Leo Ballate, its Chief Technology Officer, customer relationship management is about community engagement. With the May 2016 reopening of the museum following a major expansion, SFMOMA is shifting to a more data driven analysis of visitor behavior.

SFMOMA was closed to the public for three years during its expansion, which offered the museum a unique opportunity to look at how the it promoted its programs and engaged with new and existing audiences. SFMOMA customer outreach prior to the expansion focused almost exclusively on donors and members, audiences with an existing relationship to the museum. A desire to engage the general visitor and provide a 24/7 presence for a brand asserting openness, welcome, and generosity was a big driver behind the CRM.

The museum’s CRM project was initiated as a collaboration between the Director of Marketing and Communications, Deputy Museum Director of External Relations, Chief Content Officer, and the Chief Technology Officer. This team saw the opportunity for Tessitura and the applications developed around it to become more than a platform for donor and member outreach, but as a means to engage the larger visitor community. To break down the siloed systems developed around the museum’s constituents and departmental work practices required what Ballate called “sustained encouragement” (operational, financial, and cultural). Project leaders recognized that a successful CRM implementation would require a structure for overall governance of resource allocation and data. Comprised of three subgroups, SFMOMA’s CRM implementation is governed by (1) an Executive Group, responsible for strategic decisions, approvals of project funding, brand-related decisions; (2) Working Group made up of stakeholders from across the institution focused on tactical decisions and change management; and (3) User Group responsible for operational decisions, actual implementations, training, and continued promotion of CRM across the institution.

The challenge and importance of data governance can’t be emphasized enough. The biggest risk for a CRM project is inconsistent data.

To measure the success of its CRM implementation, SFMOMA established four goals:

  1. Grow prospect list from 220K to 1.2M; Currently 800K prospects in CRM
  2. Grow online ticket purchases from 2% to 20% of total sales; Currently between 30% and 40% of overall ticket sales happen online
  3. Increase e-mail communication opt-in from 30K to 500K; Currently 260K
  4. Grow online store purchases by 10%; Current increase 100% resulting from targeted email marketing

The three-year project that began in November of 2012 with the RFP process would have taken twice as long if the museum had been open, Ballate reflected. Key to the overall success of the project was the importance placed on clean data and the investment SFMOMA made in “data hygiene.” The museum recognized the needs in this area and invested accordingly, staffing a director of constituent management and data quality manager, supported by one IT data/business analyst. The museum also plans to post for a new analytics/data scientist position later this year (2016).

The time required to map and convert data from a number of existing software solutions including Raiser’s Edge™, Cision™, TMVista™, FileMaker™, and Excel™, increased the overall project length and attests to the complexity of museum environments where solutions have been developed around a multitude of constituent segments (donors, members, schools, ticket buyers, tour groups, marketing and media relations). As SFMOMA works to move from reactive to automated data quality reports, it is also working to improve web code design to minimize data quality risk.

One of the promises of CRM is a true 360-degree view of constituents. Ballate acknowledged the SFMOMA view is currently about 270-degrees. Next on the project list is integration of retail store purchases; implementation of self-service dashboards and reporting; and better utilization of transactional data for operational and strategic decisions.

Presentation 4: Digital Ticketing

Catherine Devine equates the implementation of new digital ticketing solutions at theAmerican Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to a heart and lung transplant for the museum’s systems. Driven by the need to replace legacy systems coupled with a digital strategy focused on improving the visitor experience, AMNH’s Chief Digital Officer believes the ticketing experience should be invisible, not the thing you remember about your museum visit.

AMNH’s five million annual visitors face extremely complex pricing and ticketing selections, including timed entry to as many as six exhibitions, films, and special events. Having bought tickets, visitors must navigate the museum’s 1.5 million square feet of public space to find the things of interest and arrive at timed events on schedule, often with children in tow. Devine’s solution, the “living ticket,” a multi-channel/omnichannel approach to the ticketing transaction that does not end with the purchase of a ticket, but is a dynamic component of the experience. Visitors can buy, change, and pick up tickets through multiple channels (ticket counters, kiosks, mobile web and the Explorer App) and the tickets remain valid until the barcode is scanned, giving visitors maximum flexibility throughout their visit. The living ticket allows the visitor to add experiences as they are encountered and enable on-demand services, activities that previously required a return to the main admissions desk. Over the course of their visit, people can add exhibitions, manage/change timed ticket entry times, and get credit for dollars spent by converting their tickets into a membership. When combined with AMNH’s Explorer App, the ticket is linked to the experience of getting around the museum. The app knows where you need to be at any given time and provides the information you need to get there. Devine’s goal is to eliminate a visitor pain point by taking the magnitude of the building into consideration.

Museum staff need time to absorb new systems. What was accomplished as an 18-month project might have been better as a five-year initiative from the standpoint of institutional change. The question is, will the market wait that long?

Ticket delivery is important to Devine. AMNH previously sold tickets online, but visitors had to wait in line at the museum to retrieve them. Today, tickets purchased online are available digitally although Devine admits, this isn’t for everyone, and believes in providing multiple ways for ticket delivery. Inspired by flying, tickets may be obtained digitally, by email, printed at home, displayed on the mobile web, Apple wallet, or in the Explorer App. From the technical perspective, one responsive set of code serves the museum’s digital ticketing solutions across multiple channels.

Presentation 5: Omnichannel Retail

Former Creative Director of MoMA’s Digital Media department, Allegra Burnette is currently a Principal Analyst in the customer experience team at Forrester Research. Burnette was invited to help summit participants think beyond museums and led the discussion around “omnichannel,” defined by Forrester as:

Omnichannel actions are those activities and processes that harmonize information and resources across digital and store touchpoints to improve customer experiences or retailer efficiency and to drive increased sales, customer satisfaction, resource productivity, or profitability.

Encompassing digital and non-digital, front-of-house and back-of-house, omnichannel covers the full retail experience. Burnette spoke about a holistic approach to retail, one not defined by physical or digital but more attentive to the complete customer experience or lifecycle. Customer goals and needs vary across this lifecycle, the stages of which include discovery, exploration, buying, using, issue-based inquiry, and brand engagement. As customer motivations vary by location, so too digital feature sets become more applicable across different points of this process. Singling out mobile, Burnette observed that customer needs vary based on physical context. In the store, a customer may be interested in learning more about a product or loyalty program; in a competitor’s store, price comparison; at home, planning a trip. Omnichannel is about the customer, where they are in the shopper’s lifecycle, their physical location, and channel preferences. Together these circumstances form what is referred to as the omnichannel experience.

Citing examples from customer-centric companies, Burnette highlighted three omnichannel focus areas with the aim of reframing the larger conversation around visitor needs:

1. Eliminating customer pain

  • Automate repetitive or mundane tasks. Starbucks eliminated paying at the register for millions of customers by automating payments via their mobile app.
  • Eliminate outdated steps. Westfield London, an upscale shopping center in the UK, automates the parking process by using a camera to scan cars as they enter its parking garage, allowing registered customers to simply drive in and out and have their accounts charged accordingly. Digital displays visible as drivers enter the garage identify open parking spots.
  • Focus on experience high points. Reserve is a restaurant app that charges your meal to a card on file, allowing customers to pay after their order is completed and while still in the process of eating. Instead of ending the dining experience on the low note of getting the bill, customers leave on a high note of their choosing.
  • Increase transparency. Real-time package tracking by UPS is aimed at reducing customer anxiety by providing detailed tracking information beyond when their package left the warehouse.
  • Introduce new experience models. With a frequently overwhelming number of choices, how can you help customers find the most appropriate options? Builder EA Homes introduced online questionnaires and design tools to sift through the plethora of choices prior to entering the showroom, thereby reducing design time from three months to 30 days. For jeans maker Levi Strauss, in-store interactive tables provide background stories on how their products are made.

2. Give customers control

  • Expand Choice. Hilton Hotels & Resorts caters to the preferences of its guests by letting them select the exact room they stay in when they check in online or using the app.
  • Enable self-service. At a restaurant in San Francisco, the contemporary version of the automat allows customers to order food through a kiosk or mobile app. Their food appears in a window for pick up.
  • Help customers take immediate action. The Discover Card app allows customers to freeze and unfreeze their accounts without calling support services. The solution was developed in direct response to journey mapping highlighting the anxiety customers’ experience around a lost card, compounded by the inefficiency of cancelling a card that is later found.
  • Extend the customer’s reach beyond the venue. Nordstrom’s mobile app gives its customers unprecedented access to sales associates by connecting them via text message, email, or FaceTime video. Patrons use this feature to send images of desired products and exchange ideas with sales associates.

3. Anticipate customer needs

  • Individualize interactions and communications.
  • Bring employees up-to-speed on customers, fast.
  • Take proactive actions on customer’s behalf. At its airport restaurants, Delta Air Lines helps manage your eating experience by correlating your food order and flight time (sorry, you don’t have time for the soufflé). In the museum setting, this is akin to Devine’s idea of automatically assigning visitors timed entry to exhibitions by knowing when they are likely to enter an exhibition.

Forrester benchmarks omnichannel functionality, scoring its clients in the categories of online experience (continuity of experience across all digital touchpoints), channel consistency (continuity across digital and physical stores), in-store pickup, and in-store functionality. At 35%, in-store pickup constitutes the highest percentage of the Forrester scale. While seemingly less applicable to museums, the notion of finding out about availability prior to reserving or making an advance purchase is a takeaway for our sector.

How do we think about the things we are offering to people who have different ways of shopping and approaching your retail environment?

Addressing the future of omnichannel retail experiences, Burnette described a dressing room smart mirror that allows the customer to call up additional product colors and sizes, control lighting (will this cocktail dress look good at night?) and ask for help from a sales associate in one of six languages. The use of explicit and implicit technologies—forward facing apps directly accessible to the customer talking to back of house systems —is the direction of the retail experience. Burnette observed, “the customer should only see that the experience is somehow better and not necessarily know about the stockroom app that is giving recommendations to staff.”

Companies trying to pursue these initiatives must start by examining their POS constraints, inventory accuracy, digital parity, and 360-degree CRM. Control over these aspects of the business are key to future possibilities. Even so, Burnette emphasized thinking about retail based on customers’ needs and their experience across channels. Instead of starting with the business requirements, consider where your visitor is having issues and address those first.

Presentation 6: Unified E-Commerce Experience

Ron Schroer, Manager of eBusiness & Retail Projects at the Australian War Memorial, spoke about an institution unfamiliar to most summit participants. Located in Canberra, the Memorial occupies a unique space in Australia’s cultural sector and was recently rated on Trip Advisor as Australia’s number one tourist destination.6 The Memorial is much more than its name suggests, combining a shrine, a world-class museum, and a research center with access to extensive archives.7

The Memorial’s mission is “… to assist Australians to remember, interpret and understand the Australian experience of war and its enduring impact on Australian society.” Falling within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and largely funded by the Australian government, the Memorial also generates its own revenue through sales of a range of goods and services with a military history theme. Onsite and online retail activities are managed within a single, self-funded Retail & Online Sales section. This section encompasses the Memorial Shop and an e-commerce unit, as well as supporting several positions in other areas whose main work is to produce image, film, and sound reproductions for online orders.

Online sales of books, merchandise, and digital media began at the Memorial in the early 2000s. Driven primarily by a desire to increase access to collection assets, the focus was on the sale of image, film, and sound materials from the Memorial’s archives. Piction was selected to serve as both e-commerce and collections search engine, allowing the Memorial to provide users with a single entry point to collections access and the shopping experience. From a web design perspective, presenting this single point of entry (i.e., the Online Shop with collection access included and promoted) has been an ongoing challenge, with many iterations over the years. In 2010, SOLR was introduced for search along with a new shopping process based on a ZEND/PHP framework and Piction’s APIs. Provided the required metadata exists,8 the system can handle a range of goods and services, including merchandise, archival images, subscriptions, memberships, and donations.

Despite the Memorial’s iconic status in Australia, at the end of the day the images and other collection material that we offer represent a ‘niche product’—you can search over 300,000 images but it’s effectively a library with a broad theme: Australian military history. Online sales numbers are generally split one third shop merchandise, two thirds collection-related digital media and associated commercial user fees.

The Memorial currently uses Piction as its primary workflow engine to manage complex internal and external requests revolving around collection-based materials. For an image order, Piction’s workflows use metadata to determine if a negative or glass plate needs to be retrieved for digitization. “Online orders help to drive our preservation priorities,” Schroer stated. Related workflows encompass scheduling manual tasks, tracking production across various business units, and order fulfillment. Ironically, the Memorial uses MediaBin for digital asset management (CMoG recently selected Piction to replace MediaBin as its DAMS). The Memorial’s use of Piction for e-commerce but not digital asset management is somewhat unique, leading to interesting questions for CMoG as it explores future e-commerce solutions.

The Memorial’s website will see major changes during 2017. For the Online Shop, this includes replacing an existing custom-built CMS with Drupal 8, allowing for enhanced shopping features. There is also discussion about moving to a CRM solution so that customer data in disparate systems (for instance, Piction and Raiser’s Edge) can be brought together and used more effectively.

Like many cultural institutions with limited resources and competing priorities, the Memorial is always trying to think of new sources of revenue. Schroer outlined two possible avenues: promoting the use of artwork for interior design and the Memorial’s investment in a small film studio appropriate for virtual tour production, ideally for school groups.

Presentation 7: Collections, Content & Online Revenue

For Matthew Majeski, The Henry Ford’s Director of Digital & Emerging Media, e-commerce is part of a larger digital strategy driven by contextual content development and storytelling. With a focus on the stories that are uniquely The Henry Ford’s to tell, Majeski’s team creates the content feeding all online efforts and multi-channel media streams, from general engagement and marketing, to educational and entertain products. Behind all digital initiatives are the requirements to increase national awareness of The Henry Ford and its offerings; identify new areas for content monetization; position the organization to enable innovation approaches to education; and create a community of “avid fans.”

The Henry Ford’s approach to digital emphasizes a holistic approach to the visitor experience developed around a mobile-first strategy. Sharing slides used to sell the investment in digital to The Henry Ford’s executive leaders, Majeski cited figures from 2013 that show 90% of all media interactions are screen-based and reveal the fragmented nature of people’s attention where context drives device choice. For Majeski, the fundamental question facing The Henry Ford is, How will [we] continue to grow, attract and inspire the ever-evolving “connected consumer” in an increasingly competitive landscape where consumers have more control and options than ever?

How will The Henry Ford continue to grow, attract and inspire the ever-evolving “connected consumer” in an increasingly competitive landscape where consumers have more control and options than ever?

Hired in 2013 to ignite The Henry Ford’s digital transformation, Majeski began by building a Digital & Emerging Media team that today comprises 14 staff tasked with digital strategy and implementation (three FTEs); digitization and digital content (three FTEs, seven indirect FTEs); and digital analytics/insights (one FTE). Previously decentralized initiatives have been replaced by a team focused on customer experience and content development. The Henry Ford outsources all software development, working with Perficient Digital, its agency partner responsible for website design, and Accesso/SiriusWare, its e-commerce solution.

The Henry Ford found inspiration for its digital transformation in the commercial sector, looking to Amazon, eBay, and iTunes for new ways of selling the same goods; and Uber, Airbnb, and Redbox for strategies connecting people with utility. For content and new ways of driving engagement and revenue growth, Majeski points to GoPro, a company that has embraced content so heartily that it has begun to position itself not as a hardware company but as a content company.9

The idea of providing people with the tools to create their own content is evident in The Henry Ford’s Artifact Cards (see figure 1). This mobile version of the artifact detail page found on the collections website widget (snippet of code) that lives wherever it gets copied, receiving dynamic information and current stories about the related artifact or collection. The Henry Ford’s content developers connect the cards into various stories types, among them Connect 3, where video is used to link disparate artifacts into stories of innovation such as the influence of a weaving loom, scientific calculator, and Apple computer on personal computing.10 A rich platform for earned media opportunities, digital collections and its associated Artifact Cards are also connecting unknown pieces in The Henry Ford’s collection to new audiences, exemplified by the recent use of historical tattoo sketches by a present-day tattoo artist.

Figure 1. Henry Ford Artifact Card widget

The Henry Ford’s investment in a content-focused digital transformation is driving results as evident in increases in key performance metrics. Majeski is proud of their 12% increase in site traffic, 16% increase in online conversion, 125% increase in referrals from social media, and cited a 155% growth in digital collections usage attributable to technology simplification, user-centric design, collections storytelling and content distribution partnerships.11 The Henry Ford’s next step will be continued evolution and development of a connected, data-driven, scalable, content-focused, and a personalized guest experience. This includes connecting pre-visit exploration online with in-museum mobile applications and interactives while driving continued engagement post-visit via email, SMS web and social media. These efforts will require The Henry Ford to focus on how to continue to monetize the digital transformation for reinvestment into future phases of this mission-focused work.

Lightning Topics

TOPIC 1: Software Solutions: Buy Versus Build

When it comes to e-commerce software, Summit participants all fell squarely in the “buy” camp, advocating for, “Buy first. Invest in customization and integration. Build as little as possible and only when the return justifies the considerable risk.”

  • Buying delivers the best return on investment, especially for common business functions like e-commerce where there are many vendors. Matt Majeski observed that investing in widely-adopted software platforms for e-commerce delivers additional value through features developed for other clients.
  • Summit participants see greater value in investing in customization of existing software products and in building integrations that allow multiple software systems to communicate. Leo Ballate described SFMOMA’s strategy of investing in an integration layer—owning this piece is of greater value and more sustainable for the Museum over the long term.
  • Customization does carry its own risks—it is software development just on a smaller scale—and may tie you to legacy versions or limit your upgrade path over the long term.
  • Museums overestimate their need for specialized features and underestimate the time to build custom solutions. As Catherine Devine observed, “success is when you ship.”
  • Diana Pan says that MoMA builds only when they have specialized needs that are not met by any existing commercial products and when the return on investment is significant enough to merit the additional risks and costs of building your own. (Devine, “we should not be inventing things from scratch when the rest of the world is inventing them.”)

Underpinning the buy versus build conversation was the sense that a successful e-commerce strategy depends more on investing in a set of systems that meet your larger institutional objectives rather than trying to develop optimal solutions for any one function.

TOPIC 2: Single Sign-on and the Unified Shopping Cart

A single sign-on and a unified shopping cart have long been seen as desirable, but challenging goals for museums with their complex mix of admission/event tickets, memberships, donations, and retail products that are often supported by many e-commerce systems isolated in departmental silos.

In considering this challenge, Summit participants are focusing first on specific customer needs and actual use cases, rather than starting from the institution’s technical architecture and asking “what software do we need to integrate with?”

Summit attendees confirmed that single sign-on - permitting customers to use one set of login credentials to access multiple applications - remains a high priority for meeting customer needs. SFMOMA and AMNH have implemented it and others are working toward it.

  • SFMOMA invested in single sign-on to ensure that members and donors could get their entitlements online. Identifying this primary use case helped them prioritize their integration strategy. As Leo Ballate described in his presentation, single sign-on is organized around the Tessitura CRM and integrated with WinRetail and Magento. The SFMOMA IT and Digital departments crafted the vision for this technical architecture and hired agencies with specific product expertise to build the integration layer that connects the commercial software products. But moving forward, SFMOMA will maintain the integration layer internally.
  • For AMNH (whose single sign-on is also organized around Tessitura) implementing single sign-on was a priority because it supports broader strategic objectives:
    • Ensuring a unified customer experience across all channels
    • ​Fostering museum understanding of this multi-channel behavior and decision-making based on relevant analytics and business intelligence
  • Matt Majeski commented that The Henry Ford is moving toward single sign-on with a similar strategic goal of integrating the user experience across all channels (as well as ensuring that retail shoppers get their membership discounts in real time). And the Memorial sees single sign-on as an opportunity to open up new revenue streams through cross marketing.
  • MoMA’s focus has been on reducing barriers to online ticket purchase and this has led to increasing simplification of the customer experience: they no longer require a login for online ticket purchase. An account is offered to customers as a value add at the end of the transaction (which allows them to track order history or get discounts for membership). Similarly, AMNH doesn’t require that you create an account or login for non-member ticket purchases.
  • Diana Pan commented that for MoMA, the benefits of reducing friction in the online purchase process far outweigh the additional customer data that would come with requiring a login with every online purchase.
  • Allegra Burnette observed that banks are starting to use voice biometrics as a unique identifier to do a single sign-on, which can address the issue of integrating with legacy systems.
  • While single sign-on was identified as a clear priority by all of the museums represented at the Summit, the ability to put all items in a unified cart, from shop merchandise to collections-based media requests, was unique to the Australian War Memorial. The Memorial’s unified cart relies on Piction’s e-commerce web services and associated metadata; this metadata also drives the order fulfillment workflows.
  • At the Memorial, an online visitor can purchase memberships, retail products and collections images (offered through the online collections pages) in a single transaction. Ron Schroer observed that the Memorial sees a clear use case for membership and shop items in a single transaction but it’s rare for a visitor to order a collections image and a retail product in the online shop at the same time, underscoring the need for museums to understand the behaviors of their audience—just as online offerings differ across museums so too will the use cases for e-commerce.

Other Summit attendees have struggled to justify the ROI of a unified shopping cart that combines admission/event tickets, membership and retail. MoMA, for example, has found no use cases for ticketing and a retail item in a single cart. Catherine Devine observed that the different e-commerce functions are relevant at different moments in the visitor journey: when someone is purchasing tickets online isn’t the right moment to offer them teddy bears.

  • Attendees also agreed on the importance of clear messaging and transparency with customers in the absence of single sign-on or when there are multiple shopping carts. For example, if customers already have an account as a result of purchasing an event ticket, they may be expecting to use the same account to purchase a retail product. Organizations may be reluctant to shine a light on a lack of functionality but, in this case, clear signposting and managing customer expectations is especially important in reducing friction in the e-commerce experience.

TOPIC 3: Integrating E-commerce and Collections: How do you connect the worlds of museum content and retail?

Museums are generally cautious about integrating retail products with collections content and this discussion underscored that. Summit participants observed that at their institutions online collections, exhibitions and events (including those that are ticketed) are often tightly integrated but retail products remain secondary and separate. In practical terms, this means that retail products do not appear on relevant collections or exhibitions pages or in site search results. This is a sensitive topic regardless of subject area: the art museums, history museums, and natural history museums around the table all reflected similar views.

Nevertheless, the consensus among Summit participants was that there are clear use cases for combining certain retail products with curatorial or educational content.

  • Robin Dowden observed that there are categories of product that are appropriate to integrate with collections content within a particular customer journey. The collections search is seen as a research tool and linking a collections catalogue with appropriate collections object pages or indexing catalogues within a federated search supports the needs of researchers.
  • Scott Sayre commented that when he developed ArtsConnectEd (a website developed jointly by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts [Mia] and the Walker Art Center that provided extensive collections and curriculum materials for teachers and students), the teachers always wanted to know if there were posters or other materials for sale that they could use in their classrooms to supplement the online resources. Ron Schroer imagined a similar use case for the Memorial’s educator audiences: he sees an opportunity to meet an audience need by offering curriculum materials for purchase to educators who have booked a school program at the museum.
  • The discussion prompted one participant to observe that this seems like a significant opportunity. He wondered, how do we start a dialogue within our institutions? How do we build bridges across the institution?
    • Michelle Tobin described a strategy of testing new approaches to retail at the Walker Art Center. Running a test and seeing what happens was one way to gain the support of a range of stakeholders at the Walker.
    • Ron Schroer observed that the curatorial team at the Memorial often don’t think in terms of retail. In his experience, consulting with curators on what they think would make for good retail product helps build relationships.
    • For Leo Ballate, making the connection to the ways in which retail supports all the programming at SFMOMA can help bring curatorial and exhibitions staff along.

There are clearly instances where integrations between online collections and retail products meet a visitor need, fulfill the museum’s mission and drive revenue. But is there sufficient return—either financial or in terms of mission—for museums to make them a priority?

TOPIC 4: CRM and Customer Development

What are the greatest benefits that your museum has realized or hopes to realize as a result of investment in CRM?

According to attendees, CRM provides:

  1. A 360°-view of customers which sounds simple but is really significant. It allows you to have an intelligent conversation with your customer and avoid tactical mistakes like sending people multiple mailings or sending a donation solicitation to a customer with an existing complaint.
  2. Data to personalize the customer experience.
  3. Insights and a stronger basis for decision-making through the analytics.

Examples of CRM Data Driving Decision-Making:

  • In 2011-12, MoMA implemented a 360° degree view of their museum members while they were implementing their first membership price change in a long time. They used SalesForce to customize their email outreach to members (in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the SalesForce CRM) and they saw an increase in membership renewals that exceeded expectations.
  • MoMA previously had member shopping days Thursdays through Sundays, but CRM data showed that customers were doing a lot of online shopping on Mondays which led them to shift the member shopping days to Friday through Monday.
  • CRM has allowed SFMOMA to segment and target their audiences. They send a pre-visit welcome email and a post-visit survey to online ticket buyers. And they’re eager to try up-selling memberships.
  • SFMOMA members identify their interests to personalize the information they receive from the museum.
  • Allegra Burnette offered an example from the corporate sector, describing how Delta Airlines knows who you are and why you’re calling when you call to rebook a flight after a delay. They’re meeting the customers where they are.

SUBTOPIC: When does the relationship with the online visitor begin? What indicates that the customer is interested in greater engagement?

For Summit attendees, the indicator that a customer is interested in greater engagement is the creation of an account online or opting-in to an email newsletter. All of the museums make a clear distinction between the transactional emails that are sent to a visitor as a result of a specific purchase and marketing emails that require visitor opt-in.

SFMOMA’s approach is typical: if an online visitor buys a ticket and opts not to create an account, the museum communication is limited to two transactional emails: the welcome and the post-visit survey. The transactional emails include an invitation to create an account and opt in for regular museum mailing.

On-site visitors are also invited to provide their email address at admissions but the value proposition isn’t clear and the summit attendees report that their on-site capture rate for emails is very low. Diana Pan observed that admissions may not be the right moment to try to capture a visitor’s email address. Michelle Tobin encouraged people to submit their email address while shopping at the Walker Store and gave them $5 off their first online purchase. This helped her develop her own email marketing list.

Login to a museum’s public wifi offers another opportunity to request visitor email ,but this may be at odds with a desire to reduce barriers to visitor use of wifi for on-site mobile apps. None of the museums at the Summit require visitors to provide their email for wifi login.

All of the museums are working to shift visitors to digital channels because of the richer data set that it provides. SFMOMA, MoMA, and AMNH do not offer an incentive for online ticket purchase. But when the museums are busy, the opportunity to bypass the ticket line drives visitors to use mobile ticketing. The Henry Ford offers 10% off daily admission for online ticketing. The visitor data provided through online transactions is recorded, and even if visitors do not opt-in for additional communications, the data can be analyzed on an anonymized basis.

TOPIC 5: Analytics and Analysis: What metrics do you take action on? What are the outcomes?

In keeping with the larger trend in the sector, the museums represented at the Summit are aiming to be more data-driven. They are collecting considerable amounts of data and, in some instances, are using analytics to drive individual decisions but attendees acknowledged that true business intelligence is still in its infancy.

  • AMNH used web analytics to make the case for the development of their responsive web presence. 11% of the traffic to their site came from mobile when they began considering a responsive site, 18% when the project was approved, 34% when it launched and now 52% of their site traffic is from mobile. Similarly, analytics from their Explorer App told them that virtually all of those who took a tour on the app never made it past the first stop. As a result, they are rethinking the idea of tours in the next version of the app.
  • MoMA is using analytics to monitor where people abandon the transaction in the online store. This has led to a simplifying and streamlining the process to the point of no longer asking for a donation as part of the check-out process.
  • The Australian War Memorial looks at on-site and online sales on a weekly basis to determine what’s popular, what’s trending, and to spot opportunities for new products.
  • At SFMOMA, Monday is the busiest day on the retail e-commerce site and so they no longer conduct routine maintenance on the site on Mondays. Their visitation data shows that Monday and Tuesday are the lightest day of the week but the museum is currently closed on Wednesdays. They’re starting to reconsider this in light of the attendance data.
  • The Henry Ford uses quantitative metrics but they’re recognizing that this doesn’t provide them with a full picture of the customer experience and they are implementing a “voice of the customer” solution to provide qualitative data as well.

SUBTOPIC: Where Does the Analytics Function Live in Your Museum?

  • Several participants commented that, at their museums, the analytics function is the responsibility of the individual business units and, as a result, analytics are being tracked and analyzed in digital, finance, marketing and education, among others. This fragmented approach doesn’t work well; there is duplication and lack of consistency and more importantly, no one owns the responsibility for the overall vision and generating institutional level business intelligence.
  • SFMOMA is currently hiring for a customer intelligence role that will live in the Marketing department. At The Henry Ford, the digital team at has a web analyst but they’re still lacking a business intelligence resource.
  • The analyst role is a difficult position for museums to fill. Diana Pan observed that it requires an unusual combination of technical and marketing skills. You need technical knowledge to access the data and marketing knowledge to understand which data are important. Analysts are also in high demand outside the museum sector and that’s driving competition.


During her opening remarks, Catherine Devine observed that museums have a lot of experience in content systems, not transactional systems. A simple comparison of museum websites to those of their retail divisions underscores this inexperience, exposing platforms frequently addressed as an afterthought instead of a benefit to be discussed at the beginning of web design conversations. Museum technologists have long advocated holistic thinking about digital, approaching digital not as a separate entity, but an integral part of our businesses and the experiences of our visitors, both online and onsite. Similarly, closing the gap between our commercial transactions and programmatic agendas in the service of customer needs is an important step in the transformational change many museums strive for. Making sure we understand e-commerce ROI not just in dollars, but in mission, brand, and guest experiences was a main takeaway for summit participants.

Summit participants suggested a range of e-commerce best practices and models connected by an emphasis on mission-centric strategies, adopting a holistic approach to retail, and data driven decision making. For many, the challenge going forward will be integration between our business layers and (re)allocation of resources, both human and financial, to achieve a multi-layered definition of success.

The initial aim in convening the summit was to expand the CMoG team’s understanding of the opportunities and challenges the museum faced moving forward in the strategic planning process. To this end, the summit proved to be a powerful means of bringing the team together around new shared insights and ideas. The summit itself provided great value to all of the participants in developing new relationships and opportunities for a continued dialog into the future. With this success, The Corning Museum of Glass hopes to organize future summits as a forum to continue this important dialog and to galvanize the future opportunities e-commerce promises for the museum and its visitors.

Robin Dowden, Laura Mann, and Scott Sayre
October 5-7, 2016 | The Corning Museum of Glass | Corning, NY

Appendix A: Summit Attendees

Leo Ballate, Chief Technology Officer
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Allegra Burnette, Principal Analyst
Forrester Research

Catherine Devine, Chief Digital Officer
American Museum of Natural History

Robin Dowden, Museum Consultant

Laura Mann, Principal
Frankly, Green + Webb

Matthew Majeski, Director, Digital & Emerging Media
The Henry Ford

Diana Pan, Chief Technology Officer
The Museum of Modern Art

Ron Schroer, Manager, eBusiness & Retail Projects
Australian War Memorial

Michele Tobin, Museum Retail Consultant

The Corning Museum of Glass

Russel Anthony, Retail E-commerce Specialist, Steuben

Steve Bender, Business Development Manager, Steuben and Retail Ecommerce

Alan T. Eusden, Chief Operating Officer

Brian Hewitt, UI Architect/Developer, Digital Media

Ryan Langille, Lead Web and Interactive Developer, Digital Media

Victor Nemard, Senior Merchandise Manager, CMOG Shops Retail

Scott Sayre, Chief Digital Officer, Digital Media

David Togni, Director of Finance, Accounting

Randy Vargason, IT Manager, Information Technology

Nick Wilson, Retail & Guest Services Technical Coordinator

Appendix B: Notes





[5] As of February 2017, SFMOMA’s online ticket sales had dropped to 25% although another increase is anticipated with the special exhibition Matisse/Diebenkorn opening March 11.

[6] The Australian War Memorial received TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Award for the number one landmark in both Australia and the South Pacific for 2016.


[8] The Memorial’s chief collection repository is MIMSY, while digital assets are handled by MediaBin. The Memorial Shop uses a point of sale system called Advance Retail. For items available online, metadata is extracted from their respective systems and sent to Piction.



[11] Statistics for March 1-July 31, 2016, year over year.

Published on April 26, 2017