Title:Visitor Services, Retail, and Development: Where Do They Fit on the Web?
Authors:James Rhodes
Publication:MW2000: Museums and the Web 2000

In the United States alone, over 99 million people are online, an increase of over 43 percent from the previous year. If these trends continue, over 200 million Americans will be utilizing the Internet by the year 2002. With new technologies come new opportunities to reach a wider array of audiences and, at the same time, expand a museum's cultural goals within a new community of visitors. A museum's web site, however, should not merely function as a source for disseminating information; it should also serve as the de facto museum, only online. Currently, most museums provide the end-user with information: general, upcoming and current exhibitions, collections, parking and directions, etc. The result: curatorial and public relations departments receive a strong web presence at the expense of visitor services, retail sales, and development departments. This paper will investigate ways that both small and larger institutions can make their web site mirror the full functionality of the physical museum through the possibilities of e-commerce. Since the late 1980s when the government began to reduce funding to the cultural community, it has become paramount for museums to take innovative approaches to procure funding. For larger institutions the trend in recent years has been to put on blockbuster exhibitions to bring in additional visitors and, as a result, an increased revenue stream. Consider also that Forrester Research has recognized the ticketing industry as one of the top five services for which consumers will use the Internet. The result of these two parallel trends is that Internet ticketing is becoming a salient force in generating visitors to the museum. Another area where museums typically generate revenue is at the retail shop. By placing merchandise online, a visitor now has the opportunity to purchase merchandise directly from home. A third area that is typically neglected by museum web sites is the development department. Attracting members and donations is one of the most important goals of a museum and yet, the development department seldom appears on any museum web site. By giving Internet visitors the opportunity to donate and join the museum, avenues are being opened beyond the physical space of the museum. More importantly, this essay will address ways that museums can bring the under-utilized departments of the museum onto the web.