Disney’s Fix for Retail Slump: Stream Theme-Park Events in Store

  • Guests get birthday greetings, cotton candy and parades
  • Unit’s revenue down 10% so far in current fiscal year

Walt Disney Co. is opening prototype stores in malls designed to win back shoppers with interactive birthday greetings and events streamed from its famous theme parks.

Since July, the Burbank, California-based company has unveiled 4 of 6 planned stores with the new look, which includes a giant video screen in the front. Guests celebrating a birthday can have Donald Duck and friends sing to them, with their photo featured on the screen. Those showing up in the afternoon can sit on seat cushions and watch a live feed of Disneyland’s daily parade down Main Street. Soon, the stores will wheel up a cart where customers can buy cotton candy and mouse ears, just like those sold at the parks.

A Disney store at Northridge Fashion Center in Los Angeles.

Photographer: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Disney

“It’s not unusual to have 50 people or so come on a Tuesday or Wednesday,” Paul Gainer, the executive in charge of Disney’s stores division, said of the parades. “There’s the opportunity to do many other things.”

Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, has had its interest in retailing ebb and flow over the years. The company once sold and then bought back its stores division. Today, the company has about 340 retail locations around the world, about a third of their peak.

Lower foot traffic at malls and a flight to online shopping has hurt Disney like it has other retailers. Sales in Disney’s retail unit fell 6 percent to $1.71 billion in the fiscal year that ended in October 2016 and 10 percent, to $1.21 billion, in the nine months of 2017. The company also hasn’t had a movie in a while that inspired the same level of shopping frenzy as “Frozen” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did.

A Disney store at Westfield Century City in Los Angeles.

Source: Walt Disney Co.

The company began working on the store redesign about 16 months ago. The last major remodeling, which included a small castle and sections designed for specific brands such as princesses, was in 2010. The company doesn’t have plans to increase its overall store count, but should the redesign deliver increased revenue, more locations will get the new look, Gainer said.

The remodeling coincides with a remake of Disney’s online shopping site. The company is more than doubling the amount of merchandise it now sells online, with a big increase in items for adults such as Coach handbags, Ethan Allen furniture and David Lerner women’s clothing. The new site includes videos of the products and more items displayed according to themes, such as Halloween costumes. Merchandise that sells well online will be brought into the stores, Gainer said.

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