When we would travel to Walt Disney World with our families, there was a single rule that governed almost every tip: as kids, we were allowed a single piece of merchandise to bring home. Every day we would take inventory of what we had seen, every shop we had visited or strolled through, wondering: is this the one? And inevitably, sometimes we would blow it (the amount of original Captain EO merchandise we let slip through our fingers is staggering). That unresolved feeling that we missed out on a huge opportunity and wouldn’t return to the park for many years still haunts us.
These days, though, if you forget to buy something or want to get an extra jolt of Walt Disney World awesomeness, all you have to do is open up an app on your smartphone. The Shop Disney Parks app, released in late summer but now featuring great new additions, allows you to find what stores in Walt Disney World are selling the merchandise you are looking for; in some cases it also allows you to buy the items on your phone without ever having to enter the theme park. And now, there’s free shipping to your home and the ability to have items deposited either at the front of the park or at your Disney resort hotel room. Talk about magical.
Recently we were in Walt Disney World and got to try the app out in the parks, which was a total blast. One night we were in Epcot and wanted to see what merchandise utilized the original EPCOT Center logo. We typed it into the app and were directed to certain stores and merchandise locations that contained exactly what we were looking for. On another night, we were at the Polynesian and scanned an item’s barcode to see its availability and whether or not we could ship it home. The app is fluid and seems to always know exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a breathtaking experience, if you’re at the parks or just browsing on your phone.
We got on the phone with Gary Daniels, Disney Parks’ VP, Digital Experience for Food and Beverage and Merchandise, to talk about the app and how it will change your Walt Disney World experience forever.
Where did this app come from?
Well, as you know, we’ve been doing several things in the digital guest experience space. We’re always looking to improve the guest experience with the tools that guests already use. And now that guests are bringing in personal devices and we’ve got an app presence at the theme parks, we wanted to continue to evolve it in all areas. So we’ve got FastPass+, we’ve got dining reservations, we’ve got wait times, but what we hadn’t done was make a better experience when it comes to guests getting these tangible memories, which is what the merchandise is. So it was the next evolution of making sure that we can do that. It can be challenging in a good way in most cases. It’s a big property, and our theme parks have a lot to offer, but sometimes it’s hard to find what you’re looking for. That’s a big piece of it – how do we remove barriers and also enhance the experience and continue to evolve it?
What are the key features of the app, for those that might not know?
I’ll give you a few scenarios as a guest. One scenario is, maybe there’s a product you’re looking for. Maybe you’re in the parks and you see another guest with something and instead of having to ask the guest where they got that item, you can just look it up on your phone. Then the app does a couple of things: it checks all the stores at Walt Disney World and tells you what stores have it in stock and puts it on a map and an image of what the store looks like. So if you want it right that minute, you can go there and find it and buy it. If you want to keep your hands free for the day, you can say, “I want this but I want to ship it home.” So you can do that in the app. You can also find an item in the app and have it delivered to the front of the park you’re in or have it sent to your resort room. Those are the key pieces: “where can I find it?” and making it easier to get it to you. The other thing that’s great is that if I forgot to get something or if I’m back in Chicago and want to get a birthday gift, I don’t even have to come to the park, I can still get exclusive park merchandise.
This is stuff that is separate from what’s on the Disney Store. A lot of it is stuff that has previously not been online, right?
There are about 1,500 items on the Disney Store and this gets you about 20,000 items. So we’re really increasing those numbers. That’s the big difference. This is a large number of items that would be impossible for you to get. Another piece that’s nice too which will additionally help, if I’m in the store and have a product in my hand, there’s a feature where I can just scan the barcode on the item and it will pull it up that way too.
So this is only for Walt Disney World, right?
Yes. Right now it is only for Walt Disney World. But as you can tell by the name of the app, Shop Disney Parks, Disneyland is something that we want to do in the future but we don’t have a committed timeline.
As with any Disney app, things always evolve and change. Are you looking forward to initial feedback and tailoring that for the guest experience down the line?
Absolutely. We believe this is a product that is going to evolve. It’s also something that is living and breathing, which is really cool. As soon as new items become available, we’re going to see what guests are looking for, we’re going to be able to do promotions. It’s something that you’re going to want to check out often because it’s not going to be the same all the time.
Is there a possibility for exclusives on the app or merchandise being available there before it makes it into the parks?
Yes, that is something that is possible. We don’t have anything that’s in-app, but there are many items exclusive to the parks that you can only get in person. As a future enhancement, we are considering that, especially for exclusive merchandise.