Even with vast swathes of the population on furlough or having lost their job due to the pandemic, it is anticipated that customary increases in spending from Black Friday through to Christmas will remain strong.

According to the Bank of England, average monthly UK household spending jumps from £2,500 to more than £3,300 in December. Ensuring as much of that extra £800 finds its way into the culture sector coffers is of paramount importance this year.

Museums are doing all they can to spread the word that the public’s online spending in the run up to Christmas could prove pivotal in their fights to stay afloat.

Last week saw the #shopmuseums campaign launched by 15 museums, with all sites taking to social media with messages urging shoppers to buy festive gifts, decorations and a range of other items from their online shops.

“Museums are a treasured part of our national heritage and no visit to one is complete without experiencing the gift shop,” says Alistair Brown, policy manager at the Museums Association.

“With many of these sites and attractions now sadly closed once again, it is important that people consider purchasing gifts from their online shops in the run up to Christmas and provide them with crucial support in the absence of visitors.”

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Culture campaigns

The institutions behind the #shopmuseums campaign include:

Imperial War Museums
Natural History Museum
The British Museum
Science Museum
Tate Britain
The Wallace Collection
British Library
Royal Museums Greenwich
National Army Museum
National Portrait Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Museum of London
Norfolk Museums Service
Tyne & Wear Archive & Museums
Beamish, the Living Museum of the North

Sunday 29th November has also been designated #MuseumShopSunday, with museums encouraged to plan ahead and formulate targeted approaches to social media marketing – the Association of Cultural Enterprises has published a webinar devoted to doing precisely that.

Regional rallying

Some organisations have taken a more localised approach. Birmingham Museums, for instance, has teamed up with nearby independent businesses and makers to hold The Virtual Birmingham Christmas Gifts Market.

With Covid restrictions mandating a secession of the city’s traditional sprawling festive markets – ordinarily worth £400 million to the local economy – the new virtual alternative will run until Sunday 13th December and is accessible via a closed Facebook group that anyone can request to join.

Digital stallholders pay a £10 access fee for the chance to sell their products to a consumer base that’s already exceeded 1,700.

“Christmas shopping for our loved ones is a festive tradition and so many of us visit local markets across the city as part of our Christmas celebrations. But the pandemic means market licences are not being issued this year, so we’ve looked for ways to adapt, and this is how the Virtual Birmingham Christmas Gifts Market was born,” explains Lucy Elvin, business development associate at Birmingham Museums Trust

“Birmingham has some fantastic small businesses and they need our support more than ever this year. Because of what we’re going through, many of us are looking to shop more purposefully and treat our friends and family to something special, so we hope this offers a positive alternative while we can’t visit markets in person.”

Benevolent Bezos?

Museums could be in line for a seasonal windfall courtesy of an unlikely source: Amazon. The online retail giant’s AmazonSmile platform enables shoppers to donate 0.5% of an item’s purchase price to any charitable cause registered on the site.

It’s free for museums to join the site and hundreds from all over the world already have. Participating organisations can also apply to be a ‘spotlight charity’, affording them a temporary promotional position on the site in order to highlight their work and increase chances of donations.

How it works

Online shoppers must first access the website via AmazonSmile rather than the main URL. Once they have finished shopping they can choose from a list of thousands of charitable organisations to whom 0.5% of eligible items’ net purchase price (excluding VAT, returns and shipping fees) will be donated

To be eligible as an AmazonSmile charity partner in the UK, organisations “must be registered and in good standing with the Charity Commission of either England and Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland”

While gains from AmazonSmile may be minimal, the tiniest levels of income will inevitably count more this Christmas than ever before. Since launching in 2013 the philanthropic arm of the retailer has donated over $215 million to charitable organisations globally.

With traditional plans long having been hurled out the window in 2020, creativity is the watchword for all museums this Christmas. This could not not be summed up more perfectly than by Beamish Museum’s new offering: video calls to Santa. The team is no doubt braced for an influx of calls from museum professionals asking Saint Nick for a few shiny new revenue streams and a year free from unexpected closures.

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