Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Will making WDW seem more appealing to young urban professionals really be enough to turn around this resort's merch per capita problem?

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Will making WDW seem more appealing to young urban professionals really be enough to turn around this resort's merch per capita problem?

Rate This
  • Comments 50

Have you heard about this advertorial that the Walt Disney Company had placed in the March issue of GQ?

This 8-page spread (Which is loaded with pictures that fashion photographer Ben Watts took of a handsome family of hipsters cavorting at Walt Disney World) tries to sell WDW as this great place to play golf ...

 Copyright 2008 Disney / Condé Nast, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... or go race cars ...

Copyright 2008 Disney / Condé Nast, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Only on the very last page of this advertorial does Mickey almost begrudgedly admit that Disney World also has theme parks & characters ...

Copyright 2008 Disney / Condé Nast, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But -- as the above photograph suggests -- if you're a young urban professional, you don't have to let this lame family stuff cramp your style. You can still goof on the Mouse while enjoying a WDW vacation with your wife & kids.

So why is Mickey now targeting the too-cool-for-school crowd? To be honest, it's because the Mouse wants these young urban professionals to bring their over-stuffed wallets down to Orlando. With the hope that they will then help shore up slumping merch per capita levels at the WDW resort.

For those of you who don't know: merch per capita levels (at least in Disney's case) refers to the average amount that your typical WDW guest spends on theme park tchotckes like t-shirts, autograph books, baseball caps, souvenir mugs, etc.

"And why is the Mouse suddenly so concerned about merch per capita levels at WDW?," you ask. Well, for the past year or so, Disney World has been relying heavily on those "Affordable Disney" vacation packages to put heads in beds. But the only problem is ... When you tell people that a six nights / seven days stay at a WDW resort for their entire family only costs $1600 ... Well, that's what they budget.

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Consequently, over the past 15 months or so, Disney World has seen a significant drop in on-property merchandise sales. And while Disney's 2007 Annual Report insists that WDW saw a 3% increase in per capita spending among resort guests ... The merch side of that equation is a very different story. From what company insider have been telling me, folks who visit Disney World these days just aren't spending as much as they used to on souvenirs.

To be fair, it has been almost a decade since WDW last had a truly popular product and/or promotion like pin trading to help drive retail sales at that resort. Which should be factored into this downward souvenir spending trend.

At the same time, given that WDW visitors haven't responding all that enthusiastically to the "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion ... Well, that means that there's a ton of merch that features that YOAMD castle-in-the-clouds logo that's still sitting on store shelves around the resort. Which means that these very same items will soon be sold at severely discounted prices at the Character Premiere Shops in the Orlando Premium Outlets & Prime Outlets International malls.

Copyright 1992 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Now I know that it may seem odd to write an article about this one narrow aspect of the Walt Disney World Resort. But you have to understand that Mickey's accountanteers take the whole merch per capita thing very seriously.

After all (According to these folks, anyway) that's one of the main reasons that Euro Disney slid so quickly into the red once that resort opened back in April of 1992. EDL was meeting Disney's initial attendance projections. The only problem was that Europeans weren't loading up on Euro Disneyland merchandise before they exited that theme park. It was those lower-than-expected merch sales levels (plus -- of course -- building three too many hotels) that nearly drove that $3 billion project to the brink of bankruptcy.

And from what I've been told, the guests who are visiting Hong Kong Disneyland aren't meeting the company's initial souvenir sales projections either. Which is why the Mouse has had to make some adjustments to that project's anticipated return-on-investment.

 Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

You see what I'm getting at? This whole merch per capita thing is a key component of the theme-park-as-a-money-making-machine equation. That's one of the reasons that the Walt Disney Company feels so confident about moving forward with its yet-to-be-officially-announced Night Kingdom project. Because they know that merchandise sales at this niche park are going to be huge. Given that the WDW guests who actually visit this only-2000-people-per-night park will then load up on items that feature the DNK logo. So that they can then prove to friends & family that they've actually been to WDW's newest & most exclusive theme park.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about all this that these young urban professionals that Mickey is now attempting to lure down to Disney World with that GQ advertorial are the very same folks that the Mouse will be going after in 2011. Once Night Kingdom officially opens its doors and Disney then needs to recruit people with very deep pockets who will be willing to pay that steep $250-to-$300 per-person admission fee.

Or could pursuing the too-cool-for-school crowd now just be Disney's way of priming the pump for DNK? Showing these oh-so-trendy types that a WDW vacation can actually be fun. Which would then make it that much easier for the Mouse to get these people (more importantly, their over-stuffed wallets) to come back to Disney World once Night Kingdom opens for business.

So what do you folks think? Will this advertorial actually persuade any young urban professionals to give Disney World a try? And will this hoped-for influx of big spenders really be enough to turn around WDW's merch per capita problem?

Your thoughts?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • I think the answer here is simple: stock better merchandise.  They can attract all the deep pockets they want but if they aren't interested in what the shops carry, they won't be opening the fat wallet.

    Many shops at the parks seem indentical.  What you can find in the Emporium, you can pretty much find everywhere else.  In recent years they have gotten better...carrying park specific merchandise, but something tells me HSM is dominating the shelves these days.  And honestly, who wants to go into a AK shop and see a HSM merchandise....

    I remember being down durnig the first season of LOST fully prepared to open my moderate size wallet and was amazed they didnt have anything relating to the show...talk about missing the boat.  Disney you lost my dollars...


  • My thoughts exactly, somepirateguy.

    The parks have seemingly more shops, kiosks, and vendors than one could count, but so much of it is simply the same few pieces of merchandise at every location.

    I remember how fun it used to be to go through the stores on Main Street.  There was something different in each one (the magic shop was a particular favorite), and there would invariably be something that stood out for me in each store.  If I wanted something Pirates related, well, I'd have to get it in Adventureland.  Now everything is everywhere, and that specialized touch is missing.

    As for LOST merchandise...well...you can find some at the Tower of Terror, but it's mostly the same stuff you can find everywhere else.

    Make merchandise that is worth purchasing, and stock it in locations where people would specifically want to buy it.  The moment when a guest is most excited about a ride, and therefore most willing to buy a souvenir related to that ride, is immediately after they depart.  Of course, then we get the mandatory gift shop exits, where people are generally more concerned with escaping the stampede rather than shopping, but a nearby shop with prominent placement...that works.

  • I think everyone will have the same answer...  The parks shops used to be unique  and different and you would rely mainly on the emporium and downtown disney for the touristy t-shirt stuff now everywhere you go both on the east and west coast you will find the same merch in every location regardless of the theme of that area... thats whats contributing to the lower sales of souvineers  ,  $1600 is alot of money for a middle class family  so i think either way you look at it disney is at apoint where they have overpriced themselves therefore people are spending less just to get in

  • No dissenting voice here ... stop stocking crap merchandise and your sales will go up. I can tell you for a fact that we're a family of "young, (sub)urban professionals" that probably falls smack dab in the middle of their key demo and we've been spending less and less each trip on merch, not because of the cost or the added expense to our trip budget, but because the merch is garbage.

    But I also think Disney is a victim of their own greed in this, to a degree. I mean the more you keep sticking your hand in people's wallets, the faster they empty out and the more likely they are to hold on to them tighter next time around. Despite what Disney thinks, most people actually have functioning brains that tell them that paying $12 for a balloon is a little nuts!

  • "an influx of affluent theme park goers will then help shore up WDW's sliding souvenir sales levels"

    How about making some cheaper merchandise...that way non-affluent people can purchase merchandise, too!

    "Will this advertorial actually persuade urban sophisticates to give Disney World a try? And will this hoped-for influx of big spenders be enough to turn around WDW's merch per capita problem?"

    I think that if someone was thinking on taking their family on a vacation, seeing that article might influence them.  It can't hurt!  

    Maybe if Disney gave resort guests one-time-use coupons for 5% or 10% off merchandise, then maybe people will be more likely to purchase merchandise.  Some vacationing families may not think they have time to browse the stores, when they have attractions to visit.  If they have an incentive to browse merchandise, though, then maybe they'll see that there's a lot of merchandise that they want that they can't get elsewhere.  And with such a small discount, Disney doesn't have much to lose.

    Lighttragic said:

    "$1600 is alot of money for a middle class family  so i think either way you look at it disney is at apoint where they have overpriced themselves therefore people are spending less just to get in"

    That's a huge factor.  Some people are barely able to afford even getting to WDW, and they need to eat.  So their main money factors are airfare (or gas), hotel, and food.  Maybe they'll have a little extra money to get a stuffed animal or a t-shirt, but some families just can't afford to buy everything.  With the free dining plan in September (when most kids are in school), many families aren't able to take advantage of that, so they need to save up a lot of money to cover the basics.  

    I think that a lot of the merchandise is quality (and some isn't so much).  It's just that the more quality products cost more than some are willing to pay.

  • Although I agree with above, there are still a few outposts of good merchandise at WDW.  World Showcase at Epcot is still stocked with heaps of region specific treasures.  The day that High School Musical arrives at the Mexico pavilion we're in big trouble!

    Oh, and I'm still not into this Night Kingdom idea, it sounds like a hard ticket event at DAK rather than a 'new' park.

  • Once again.....get over it Disney...you are not LAS VEGAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    If you wnated to be...you should have supported gambling in Florida and guess what...gambling is here and you missed the boat!


  • Advertising for different demographics is a very good idea. If you think of the Superbowl "I'm going to Disney World" ads, you're seeing something specifically aimed at the sports fan.

    And HSM's presence at WS could be in the form of exclusives: CDs of the covers recorded for foreign Disney Channels. Out of curiosity, does WS's Japan store sell Japanese toys? The pix I just saw had Mattel's American Naruto toys and the sort of Pokeplush Nintendo World sells. Don't get me wrong- I'm still keen on getting over there being both Disneyoid and otaku but at least if I could get some Japan pavilion exclusives like a Sakura figure or something (Mattel's gotten worse with female action figures and male dolls- even with HSM... took months to get my little sister the whole set)...

    In terms of coupons, I think dispensing them with ticket sales gets the ball rolling. Maybe store events.  

    And I can't imagine fan podcasts are a bad way to promote directly. I'm definitely hearing more corporate outreach on some I listen to.

  • Way back when, not long before ticket books were done away with, my parents took the family (3 kids) to WDW.  It was the only time the entire family went together, and we loaded up on "stuff".  My mother still has a couple of coffeee mugs from that visit, and I acquired my Dad's t-shirt.  Now, she has used those mugs regularly since that visit, and Dad's shirt became a "work shirt", that he wore when doing projects around the house.  The mugs are fine, and, other than a few small stains, the shirt is in fine, wearable shape, with no holes.

    In 2005, my wife and I went to WDW.  We left with two mugs and a t-shirt.  Summer of 2006... the graphics on one of the mugs had come off, like someone had soaked it in turpentine.  October of 2007... same thing happened to the other mug.  And the shirt?  Well, that has small pen-tip sized holes all over it.  That the stuff didn't hold up is bad enough, but when you can directly compare them to items bought 25 years earlier, and the old stuff is still fine?  

    Maybe the reduction in merch revenue is due to frequent and semi-frequent visitors not buying what they've learned to be sub-standard products.  I know that on my next visit, I won't be buying.

  • My family and I go to WDW at least once a year and I can tell you that we definitely buy less while we are down there.  My kid's (11 & 14) have $150 each to spend and they don't even come close to spending it.  The selection is just not there for them.  What really bugs me is the generic "Disney Parks" logo that seems to be on most items.  I'm in WDW and want stuff with WDW on it, not something I can get at Disneyland.  I will never buy an item with this logo on it.  

  • As a young, urban professional with disposable income, I can speak with some level of authority on saying that merchandise at WDW is pretty much totally crap. On my last trip, my partner and I both noted how homogeneous all of the merch was. For the most part, I felt like I was walking through the toy section of WalMart, where most young urban professionals don't shop. It seemed the merchandise forces were targeting the lowest common denominator; almost 95% of the stuff were things you could find in your local Disney Store.

    Example: Trying to find park-specific or ride-specific merch was almost impossible. Finding a magnet or coffee mug unique to that location just wasn't an option. If I wanted a princess costume, I'd have hundreds of options, but finding an Epcot hat would require a multi-store hunt.

    Also, most of the "unique" stores have long been removed from WDW. Remember the parfumerie in Liberty Square? Unique. A replacement store selling Six Flags style giant suckers? Not so much.

    The Village Marketplace was a better resource, but also seemed to be afflicted by a bit of the sameness of the merchandise. The bargain store there was actually quite good, with some unique anime-style items available that weren't available anywhere else. World Showcase was one exception to the other stores, thanks to the country-specific stuff.

    Amazingly, the best selection of park-specific merchandise were at the outlet stores off-property, which tells me a lot of this stuff isn't selling when it's out at the parks.

    Contrast this to Island of Adventure, where almost every attraction has a great selection of merch to purchase. It's an easy way to bump up sales unique to that park, and a wonderful conversation piece when you get home.

    I guess my point is that when I'm at WDW, I want really unique Disney and WDW specific merch, but I don't think that's what most of the population wants. For that 95% of the population on a budget vacation, they're not going home with soundtrack CDs, attraction poster reproductions, magic tricks, custom-blended perfume, or a Big Al plush. They're happy with the "make your own pixie stix" station and some generic mickey junk reminiscent of a mass merchant.

    If Disney wants young professionals, they need to practice what they preach. I know not everyone is going to Jiko and getting a cheese plate for dessert, but it's a really good idea to at least offer the option.

  • The answer of better merch - both affordable and high-end - is key because if it's a "gotta have" you will spend whatever to get it. However, I also think that affluent Urban hipsters are not necessarily a souvenir crowd. If you go to WDW to play golf and race cars you are going for living the experience.  It's not transparent to simply say "they stay here they will spend on souvenirs".  This is the same level of thinking that got them in this mess in the 1st place with the value crowd.  I can see it now - marketing types scratching their head saying "gee, we have put out so many lines, and the numbers don't add up. We're not selling"  Duh! Demand and gotta-haves are not managed by spreadsheet and numbers - it's about design and promotion - and we know how good that has been over the last two years, don't we mr. rasulo.

  • Disney is their own worst enemy. They have noone to blame but their selves. First, they over-charge for the merch at the resort. They overcharge for rooms, tickets, food, etc. The average family has nothing left to buy merch.

    The parks are also competing with Disneyshopping.com and other retailer selling Disney merchandise. The last couple of times we went was for the free dining in September, and the online store had a summer clearance sale of clothing. We saved a lot of money by purchasiing several of our shirts online and on sale for about a third of what we might pay in the parks. We then wore these to the parks and while we were there we saw lots of other people wearing the same clothing. Another great deal we found was at the 99 cent store. They had Disney autograph books at 99 cent each and then 2 or 4 pens for 99 cent. The same pens and books sell for 3 to 5 times markup in the parks.

    So, the smart shoppers are buying their Disney stuff outside of the resort.

  • meabfab said:

    "As a young, urban professional with disposable income, I can speak with some level of authority on saying that merchandise at WDW is pretty much totally crap. On my last trip, my partner and I both noted how homogeneous all of the merch was. For the most part, I felt like I was walking through the toy section of WalMart, where most young urban professionals don't shop. It seemed the merchandise forces were targeting the lowest common denominator; almost 95% of the stuff were things you could find in your local Disney Store."

    I actually started to type virtually the exact same thing in my earlier response, but I ran out of time and had to head to the office. Why would I pay $22 to buy the same cheap plastic toys in WDW that I could buy at home at Wal-Mart for $14.00? Or even better ... I can wait until the inevitable clearance sale at the Disney Store and get it for 8 bucks!

    This is definitely their own fault and it has little to do (IMO) with the class of guests they're attracting to the parks. It has to do with the fact that, as with everything else, they've cheapened the Disney experience, people have noticed, and it's affecting the bottom line.

    You know as much as people hate it when Walt's name gets invoked, the guy wasn't exactly an idiot. He understood people and there's a reason why his "quality wins out" approach made him a household name worldwide.

    olegc said:

    "However, I also think that affluent Urban hipsters are not necessarily a souvenir crowd."

    Yeah, this is a really good point. Outside of that brief period a few years back when Mickey t-shirts became all the rage in Hollywood, I don't see Disney branded merch being something the average GQ reader is going to walk around sporting. I also don't see them as the type to lug home a bunch of junk and have it messing up their hip, urban pad.

  • Not to mention the giant Wal-Mart right down the road from WDW...my kids call it "the Disney Wal-Mart."  When the biggest retailer in America is Wal-Mart, you've got to differentiate and have better quality, more unique merchandise if you want people to pay premium prices.

    I have tons of Disney stuff, but I'm also uninspired by the YOAMD and the "Disney Parks" generic merchandise.  And the white "Disneyland Harold" yeti for sale at Animal Kingdom...no way!  If that's what's for sale, my AMEX is staying right where it is, thank you!

    I also wonder how much of WDW's business is repeat business.  For us, the more often we visit, the less we buy.  I don't need any more t-shirts, mugs, etc., ad nauseum, and I bet lots of other people feel the same way.

    We Americans (and I bet our European and Canadian friends) already have so much stuff.  Too much stuff.  We waste resources and people buy things they don't need and may never use.  I'd love to see Disney rise up to a higher level and sell more things that are worth having.

    When I'm there in August, I'll be looking for some art for my art-niche, and I'm willing to pay a reasonable price for it.  I wonder if I'll find anything I'll want to buy?

    Sue in Texas

Page 1 of 4 (50 items) 1234