museums&MORE Spring 2011
Editor’s Letter: Shopping Psychology

We’ve all heard of “retail therapy,” shopping done for the primary purpose of improving a mood or disposition. Research also has shown that museums can be restorative environments – places where people go to relax, recharge and boost their mental and physical wellbeing. When you combine those two things, it sounds like a recipe for retail success.

According to an article on, psychology professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan first formulated the Attention Restoration Theory in the 1980s. According to this theory, many tasks in everyday life call for directed attention, which takes a lot of mental effort.

Eventually, you hit a mental wall, a state called directed attention fatigue. In that mentally exhausted state, you’re prone to being distractible, irritable, impulsive, frustrated and tired. To restore your ability to focus attention, you need to shift mental gears.

In the decades since the Kaplans proposed their theory, studies have shown that an effective way to do this is by spending time in nature and participating in object, cognitive, introspective and social experiences. Most museums (and other destinations) offer a mix of all or most of these experiences. Object experiences are often dominant at art galleries, cognitive experiences at science museums, introspective experiences at history museums and social experiences at children’s museums.

While you may be reaching a mentally exhausted state reading this, my point is that people are looking for a break. Daily life brings with it e-mails and deadlines, phone calls and errands, and most people are looking for a chance to shift their attention by engaging in restorative activities such as culture and shopping.
That means that specialty retailers are in the unique position of being able to provide that to consumers in relatively simple ways.

With an inviting environment and welcoming sales practices, retailers can call for their directed attention to products without them feeling that pressure or attention fatigue. Simple conversation about what they’ve just seen or where they’re headed can put their mind at ease and foster an atmosphere that casually encourages lingering in the shop and maybe spending a bit more than they planned.

It’s about grabbing their attention and providing a personal connection, an escape from the routine of the everyday. A walk through an exhibit with a stop back in the store might be just what consumers – and retailers – need to relax, recharge and boost their mental and physical wellbeing.

And healthy shoppers make for healthy profits, something sure to grab your attention.

We also hope that our features this issue grab your attention, as we go behind the scenes of the gift shop at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Canada, John Ball Zoo in Michigan and revisit a new museum store at the Salvador Dalí Museum in Florida. The feature on stationery gifts and accessories also offers tips and tricks to help your customers reconnect with the importance of the written word.

After all, if museums can foster a restorative environment, so can publications about museums and specialty retail.

By Abby Heugel, Managing Editor

Social Connections

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