Let's Get Real

Can we reinvent our online cultural offer?

Event Over

Tim Plyming of Nesta on the possibilities of online retail

Ahead of our Let’s Get Real conference ‘Can we reinvent our online cultural offer?’ Culture24’s editor Richard Moss speaks to Tim Plyming of Nesta about online retail and why they became project partners for Let’s Get Real 5


Tim Plyming

Tim Plyming is passionate about the possibilities of online retail. “It’s an enormous opportunity,” he says. “What the digital space has allowed people to do is go direct to a new range of customers. They can start to explore niche and specialist audiences.”

And that, he adds, “is a global opportunity”.

As Director in the Innovation Lab at Nesta, Plyming oversees a portfolio of work supporting digital arts and media. He believes the ability to speak to any customer anywhere in the world is something that arts and cultural organisations need to take advantage of now.

“It’s about collaboration,” he says. “What online retailers want are the points of differential – things that make them feel unique and different to their rivals. I believe partnerships with arts and cultural organisations could provide that. There are some fantastic museums and galleries who offer a level of creativity that is hugely attractive to audiences.”

Plyming, whose impressive CV includes a successful stint as Head of Digital Media and Publishing at the British Museum, is interested in exploring what else museums and art organisations could be offering customers.

“What could we send to a customer ahead of their visit? How do we engage with the customer after the visit? Museums have an opportunity to forge a different relationship. People do not see spending money for additional information or services as something negative.

“Their connection with the brand is a very positive one. They are enjoying something – and quite often it’s for free. And there’s a high degree of trust and appreciation by audiences of arts and culture brands.”

But the truth is, when it comes to upselling, the arts and cultural sector still have a way to go.

“It’s partly a cultural thing,” explains Plyming. “It’s not what they’re about, it’s dirty, it’s commercial, but I think audience relationship with the commercial world is not as simple as that. Quite often it’s about products and services that add value to people’s lives.”

Pointing to companies such as John Lewis and Currys-PC World, who have “done a very good job” at adopting  an “omni-channel approach”, Plyming says they really understand customer behaviour before and during their visit to a store, and how they follow up online.

“What is the arts and culture equivalent that? My concern is that if you start to experience an arts and culture moment and it seems totally different, we’re just behind the curve. I think that’s a real risk. We’re now absolutely at the tipping point.

“We have to be delivering stuff in a way now that audiences and consumers are used to. We’re at a point where organisations are really beginning to base themselves around us.”

He concedes that some of the big London venues are doing “quite good retail numbers”, but says the question is: “Could they be doing better and are they adapting to new audiences in the way that they need to do?”

This is just one of the questions that Nesta, who have joined Let’s Get Real 5 as project partners and hosts of the three London workshops, will be helping us explore.

“What I love about Let’s Get Real is it’s a grassroots initiative that came from a desire to learn together and share,” adds Plyming. “I’d like to see more initiatives like it in the sector. We should be sharing more and learning together.”


Book your ticket now to the  Let’s Get Real conference in Manchester on 27th October


Are you based in the UK? Read all about the UK version of Let’s Get Real 5 and find out how to sign up 

Are you based in North America?  Find out about the version for North American organisations and how to sign up


Posted May 10, 2016 in: Uncategorized by Jane Finnis

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