Avoiding the membership tax


I belong to an art museum that has a fairly standard annual membership program. You pay an annual fee, and get free admission throughout the year, along with the usual discount in the gift shop, etc. But they have one practice that really irks me: whether you’re a member or not, you have to pay for the bag and coat check.

Now, I can understand why they don’t want people carrying huge shopping bags into the facility and bumping into the art. But charging members for this service amounts to a sort of “membership tax” or tariff. Anytime you visit after shopping (even if all you bought was some toothpaste) or if you stop by in the winter, they collect $1 per item. If you visit once a week with some item in tow, you’ll shell out nearly as much as the annual membership fee in these little charges.

Here’s a better idea: either make the service free for members, or offer an add-on option that entitles the bearer to a year’s worth of coat and bag checks at a flat rate. Along with that, provide some guidance about what people can expect they’ll need to check. That way, the enforcement won’t seem so random.

More generally, I would argue that nickel-and-diming your customers every time they show up isn’t a smart long-term practice — especially when your business is built around selling memberships. If there are going to be hidden charges, disclose them up front and let customers choose to pay an additional fee to avoid them, if they so desire.