MCNY: Service Audit

Improving the gift shop experience for the Museum of the City of New York



We worked with the Museum of the City of New York to increase the museum’s gift shop revenue through visitor flow optimization. Because the non-profit museum operates on a suggested admission price model, it relies heavily on its two gift shops for revenue and it is crucial to direct visitors into those spaces.

Through intercept interviews, co-designing with our stakeholder and field observations, my team and I were able to identify several major pain points in the current user journey. We synthesized our research to build prototypes for three key touch points.


Timeline: 7 weeks
Collaborators: Crystal Wang, Addi Hou, Glenda Capdeville
Categories: User research, service design, prototyping, wayfinding


The Problem

Because MCNY operates on a donation-based ticket model, most of its revenue comes from its two gift shops. Currently, the museum attempts to increase gift shop revenue by asking visitors to enter and exit the building through the gift shops. However, visitors prefer to leave using the more open and inviting atrium entrance and exits instead.

Green:  Correct Entrance  Red:  Incorrect Entrance  Blue:  Correct Exit

Green: Correct Entrance
Red: Incorrect Entrance
Blue: Correct Exit

The larger atrium exit on the left. The gift store exit on the right.

The larger atrium exit on the left. The gift store exit on the right.

An ineffective sign used to re-route people when it was already too late.

An ineffective sign used to re-route people when it was already too late.

People ignoring the sign and using the "wrong" exit.

People ignoring the sign and using the "wrong" exit.




In our initial conversation with our stakeholders, they identified tour bus tourists as their biggest customer demographic. Big NYC tour buses follow a Manhattan route that stops right in front of the museum, delivering daily visitors who are looking for quintessential NYC history, New York-centric souvenirs, and a place to rest during their tour. We felt this target audience had the biggest potential to make an impact on the museum's revenue bottom line and we decided to make them the focus of our solutions.


User Journey

Through a user journey map, we identified three main stages to the journey: pre-visit, at the museum and post-visit. We focused on the latter two stages, noting that the journey is quite circular because the museum experience does not have a clear, linear flow. We learned that no real incentives have been offered throughout the user journey to lead visitors to explore the gift store, even though there is a moment of opportunity before visitors leave where they linger in the main space, figuring out how to continue their social activities.


Service Blueprint

Creating a service blueprint allowed to see different opportunities we could leverage throughout the user journey, such as the different moments visitors interact with employees and programming the Altrue software used during check out to provide employees with specific language.

Museum of New York Blueprint.jpg

Desk Research

We conducted an extensive literature review to discover four key principles for successfully integrating gift shops into the museum experience.

  1. Create awareness of the gift shop throughout museum experience

  2. Arrange store layout and merchandise to mirror visitors' natural behavior

  3. Make merchandise relevant to current exhibits

  4. Prioritize good customer service — this can directly lead to sales


Intercept Interviews

We spoke with several visitors, security guards and staff members from the stores and coat check to understand the biggest pain points and the current visitor experience. We also had the opportunity to co-design some solutions with our stakeholder Jerry. Afterwards, we synthesized our findings and brainstormed ideas within the context of our during-visit and post-visit user journey.

Co-designing with Jerry Gallagher, the COO of MCNY.

Co-designing with Jerry Gallagher, the COO of MCNY.

White boarding our ideas and finding focus.

White boarding our ideas and finding focus.


Solution Prototypes

We came up with several approaches to increase foot traffic to store B, utilizing our four key principles to create a holistic user journey.


"Not-so-gentle persuasion" exits


Our first solution is to cover the glass atrium doors with bold opaque decals reminding visitors to check out the gift stores before leaving. Knowing that the openness of the glass doors currently directs the eye to the main space, this is a simple way of playing with vision. 

We also thought it would be a fun opportunity to bring more NYC culture into the space by using brash New Yorker language.


Leveraging museum staff with verbal directions

Shop 1 Interior 2.JPG

We quickly discovered how often visitors turned to museum employees to provide directions and information when signage and maps lacked guidance. Taking advantage of these conversations to naturally push visitors toward gift shops could be quite effective, especially because they are present throughout the entire user journey. After speaking with Jerry, we also learned that the museum uses Altru software in all of their cash registers and that it is possible to program specific verbal prompts into the check out process.

This solution would not require any new resources, but it would require consistent training, which we knew is difficult to thoroughly execute despite the store manager's daily morning check-ins with staff. 


"Recharge station" to increase activity by store B


Before visitors would head out of the museum, they often rest on the atrium couches or charging their cell phones in a wall outlet. We thought it would make sense to leverage this existing behavior and move it toward store B where the hallway is wide and full of empty space. By creating a dedicated "recharging" station with decals nostalgic towards old school NYC phone booths, we can help tourists rest and charge their phones (crucial for travel). The close proximity to store B would increase likelihood of entering the store, and creating a photo op moment.

This solution could be relatively low budget with simple comfortable seating cubes with decals.


Improving Store b's Layout and Content

Current layout on the left. Suggested layout on the right.

Current layout on the left. Suggested layout on the right.


The last approach is improving store B’s layout and content. Once we get visitors into the space, it’s crucial that the merchandise and spatial organization resonate so they actually want to spend time in the store and purchase an item or two. After observing visitors and interviewing a few of them about their impression of the store, we discovered that most people were entering the store and immediately leaving.


“It feels like I’m walking and I’m not being directed into the main [space].”


One of the most impactful tactics for improving merchandise sales is creating positive staff and customer interactions. We proposed moving the register near the entrance so staff can greet entering customers, and shifting merchandise tables into the center of the space to create a more circular flow. 


Business Considerations


We analyzed the feasibility of all of our ideas by considering financial cost, the human resources necessary to execute and maintain the solutions and the level of buy-in from our stakeholder. When making suggestions to the museum, it was important to consider what the costs on their end would be.

Certain ideas such as training staff to give verbal directions can be implemented at almost no cost to the museum, because the existing infrastructure and people necessary are already in place. However, re-arranging store B would require uninstalling the cash register and furniture and deserves further testing before making such decisions.


Next Steps

After initially presenting our ideas to our stakeholder, Jerry, he immediately pointed out challenges that would make our ideas less feasible and we iterated to work within those constraints. We are currently working with Jerry to implement some of our prototypes after sharing them with his team.