Disney Store Makes Digital Magic

Mar 08, 2013

Carol Spieckerman reported this story on behalf of RetailWire. To see more of her commentary and analysis, visit the newmarketbuilders retail blog.

How can a beloved and iconic brand maintain an emotional connection with its customers, even as it powers through an ambitious omni-channel transformation? In her presentation at this week’s eTail West event, Disney Stores’ VP of ecommerce and marketing, Elissa Margolis, noted that, even though the Disney Store division represents a smaller piece of the corporate pie, its customers view shopping in its stores as the next best thing to visiting one of its theme parks. With an eye on making its digital kingdom just as magical as its physical fiefdom, Disney began to build on a previous, functionality-focused redesign in 2010.

The "experience principles" and key considerations that guided the project from the onset included:

  • Don’t let technology break the spell.
  • Convey Disney’s specialty retail premise online.
  • Craft a distinctly Disney personality.
  • Make it about the guest.
  • Follow a "franchise-first" philosophy that emphasizes storytelling.

Through interviews with guests and visits to their homes, Disney gained a number of insights. They learned that some moms are driven by efficiency and a desire to check items off of lists, while others are motivated by their deep connection with Disney and a desire for their kids to enjoy experiences like their own. Changes that had initially been reduced in priority, such as the ability to sort items by color in non-apparel categories, were determined to be important to customers.

Additional changes focused on aesthetics and content, including emphasizing lifestyle photography, enhancing zoom features, and even evolving copy to correspond with how a "cast member" (store associate) would speak to a guest. For example, the phrase "product details" was changed to "the magic is in the details."

To replicate the anticipation associated with a Disney Store visit, a new feature allows guests to record personalized videos for gift-giving occasions. Gift recipients first receive an e-mail confirming that something special is on the way, and then a personal URL included inside of their gift card takes them to the gift giver’s video message. Customer feedback was also heeded regarding its surprise-spoiling gift packaging, which featured character art on the outside. Gifts are now sent in plain brown boxes.

At checkout, its confirmation order page pulls up content that can transport customers to Disney’s network of sister sites and to information on upcoming events, all of which can be shared across social networks. In a complementary strategy, Disney Store associates are encouraged to facilitate online purchases for guests, which can then be shipped to guests’ homes.

Disney Store is seeing double-digit growth and increases in guest engagement in the wake of its digital transformation. At the top of Ms. Margolis’s list of takeaways is to go beyond the obvious goal of driving conversions and develop and adhere to user experience principles instead.

What lessons does Disney Store’s omni-channel push offer for other retailers? What are the obvious and less obvious hurdles retailers face as they attempt to build a seamless shopper experience across channels?

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8 Comments on "Disney Store Makes Digital Magic"

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Max Goldberg
9 years 2 months ago

Disney is expert at taking its brand across channels. They’ve been doing this for many years. Like all retailers, this did not come naturally to Disney. Early iterations of the Disney Store Online had different pricing than the brick and mortar stores, and consumers were unable to buy online and return in-store.

Today retailers need to make their shopping experience seamless. Consumers expect nothing less. They want to buy online, pick up and return in-store. When in-store, if an item is out of stock, they want the sales associate to be able to access online inventory and arrange free delivery. Retailers that do this will be held in higher regard than those that cannot.

Bob Phibbs
9 years 2 months ago

Disney store’s mantra to be “the best 30 minutes in a child’s life” is what drives all of it. Their new wristbands that hold information and will allow them to personalize the child’s experience is indeed magical. What are the hurdles? Just like the Apple Store—you aren’t Disney.

The focus of what technology can do to enhance, not replace the physical world is what makes it magical. Disney isn’t bringing the “web into their store” they are making the store magical.

Frank Riso
9 years 2 months ago

Disney appears to have it right. If someone comes into the store to buy something, sell it to them even if it is not even in the store. The same product, the same price and no worries about where it was purchased or returned. That is what omni-channel retailing is all about.

Most retailers will deal with who gets credit for the sale, but how do they control inventory returned to each store from online purchases? We need to change some of the metrics from inventory issues to customer service enhancement. In that way, the customer is put first in all discussions about how to implement a true omni-channel retailer.

Shep Hyken
9 years 2 months ago

For Disney, it is all about the experience, and that experience has primarily been in-person. So, should a company that is best known for creating magical experiences (in person) go digital?

They have no choice. Even though they will never lose the in-person magical experience, their future customers (guests) are growing up in a digital world and will expect Disney to be a part of that world. What will make Disney somewhat unique is that the in-person experience will be a pleasant break from the digital world they know and live in, thereby making their theme parks and retail experiences stand out even more.

I’m looking forward to see how Disney takes their magic to the digital world.

Adrian Weidmann
9 years 2 months ago

A critical lesson is to understand your customers and their expectations. “Make it about your guest” Design solutions that provide valued experiences to your shoppers on their terms. Those solutions may be as simple as plain brown boxes as opposed to brand overload! This could be valued insight for VS and Apple gift wrapping?! Don’t allow seductive technology to guide your brand. Use technology to enable your brand magic.

The ideas and concepts put forth by Ms. Margolis are extremely valuable and relatively straight forward, but they require focus and commitment to execute. Activating these strategic concepts requires work and attention to detail—which currently seems to be in short supply at many brands and their agencies.

Building the seamless shopper and brand experience across all customer touchpoints first requires the status quo culture of siloed departmental agendas and the hallowed retail objective of ‘operationalizing’ to be abandoned. Design and activate solutions that are valued and easier for your guests not your employees or status quo organization.

Robert DiPietro
9 years 2 months ago

It’s about making the experience seamless for the customer. The customer doesn’t care that they bought it online and are returning it in the store and the systems aren’t connected—they view it as the same company.

Disney has a unique position as they have RAVING FANS who want to experience the magic and busy parents that need to be efficient yet they can cater to both.

Ed Rosenbaum
9 years 2 months ago

Retailers take notice. Nobody is better at customer service than Disney—nobody. When I first read the title and saw the Disney name appear a smile came to my face. And I am far from a kid, until it comes to Disney.

Retailers need to be diligent in following the Disney lead. They can learn so much unless they decide to continue to bury their head in the sand about what real customer service is.

Martin Mehalchin
Martin Mehalchin
9 years 2 months ago

Really nice execution by Disney as the re-imagine and invigorate what were once fairly staid stores.

One great insight in the article is that there are two kinds of shoppers: mission driven and experience seeking, and often as a retailer you need to serve both. Disney is clearly doing that online and also in the stores with an “endless aisle” offer.


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