Hospitals & Facilities

Wellstar Health System, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center revitalize the gift shop for the future

Cute clothes, easy checkouts, and local wares will be the markers of the gift shops for our time, regardless of whether you work in the hospital or simply live in the neighborhood.
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Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

· 4 min read

Health systems know that hospital gift shops conjure up images of sad stuffed bears and limp feel-better balloons.

That’s why systems like Wellstar Health System in Georgia and Pennsylvania’s University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are building new spaces for their gift shops—and they’re particularly focused on selling curated offerings and incorporating new technology.

The new spaces aren’t just for the patients and their visitors, either. Hospitals want to serve their customers, who are mostly their employees, as well as their larger surrounding communities.

“Hospital gift shops really are boutiques,” Amy Saye, director of volunteers and patient advocates at Wellstar Kennestone Regional Medical Center, told Healthcare Brew. “I always call it the best-kept secret in your community because it [has] things you can’t find anywhere else. It’s a great small business.”

With medical professionals working long shifts, the need for an all-purpose gift shop is key. These workers often can’t leave to grab lunch or dinner, and even if they get the chance to step out, most retail and grocery stores are closed; shopping during a shift is a Herculean task.

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At Wellstar, which has 10 hospitals throughout Georgia, 70% of the gift shop customers are staff, and the other 30% consists of patients and their visitors.

The offerings, then, need to serve those target markets.

Kennestone Regional’s two gift shops—a 920-square-foot general gift shop and a 1,680-square-foot women’s shop—offer sundries like candy and snacks, beverages, flowers, and stuffed animals.

The stores also offer seasonal items, along with clothes, shoes, and jewelry often found in boutiques. The women’s shop, which uses Airome products (also sold in the store) to add a mild fragrance to the space, sells new baby gifts as well.

“You have to know who your customers are, what they’re looking for—you have to know what’s current,” Saye said, citing Atlanta Apparel, a wholesaler of trendy clothes, shoes, and accessories. “They actually love working with hospital gift shops because we pay our bills.”

Wellstar’s shop is expanding its physical footprint to 1,670 square feet because, Saye said, the gift shop of the future should be “a place for convenience” that can accommodate the growing need for these items—and a way to create a stronger connection with its visitors.

“Our women’s services are offered in that same area,” Saye said. “We actually give people who come in for a mammogram a coupon for 25% off an item so that when they come in, [we say]: ‘Get your mammogram. We are so thankful you came in and you took care of your health,—go grab a cute item you can’t find anywhere else and get 25% off.’”

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An older woman in a hospital gift shop

Wellstar Health System

That’s a tactic UPMC, which sees about 8,000 people a day, is taking with its gift shop, which is part of a new lifestyle village located in the middle of the Pittsburgh Innovation District. The shop is set to open in 2026.

The “pop-up retail” strategy allows UPMC to partner with local coffee shops, food and retail vendors, and artists. So that means these brands and businesses get to enter an expensive real estate market and set up shop, said John Krolicki, VP of facilities and support services at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

The model not only creates opportunities for small businesses but also makes a hospital facility more desirable for the greater community to visit.

“We’re really looking to support local businesses,” he said, adding they’re especially keen to work with minority-owned businesses that have been affected by gentrification.

Krolicki said that there are different business models for the companies to set up shop, but didn’t elaborate on the specifics, such as whether the hospital is setting up equity deals with the brands.

“We’re not doing it to make money. We’re very flexible in how we arrange the deals, but we do want to break even,” he said. “This is more about bringing people from different areas in to sell to the people working in the Innovation District or in the hospital.”

The hospital also intends to integrate scalable technology into its gift shop—think smart scales and cashierless checkout stations—and then introduce the tech across UPMC’s 40 hospitals.

“The tech that we’re looking at […] the scanner reads it and knows what you have on your tray. It automatically knows you have a drink, it knows you chose whatever items, it can scan it and charge you for your meal,” Krolicki said. “Gift shops are a necessity, and we’re totally changing them.”

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.