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Yesterday at Westfield Mall in Century City, California, we got invited to an early preview of the new Disney Store. It’s a a major overhaul of both the physical stores and their online retail operations that was made in response to what today’s Disney consumer wants.
“Online, shopDisney is the ultimate destination for the most extensive collection of curated merchandise from our stores, parks, and licensed partner,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive (segment which Disney Store sits under). “This combination creates a powerful omnichannel experience that represents the next generation of Disney retail.”
The Westfield Century City Disney Store where the preview event was held was what representatives called a “prototype store” as there are only a few of these new store designs currently open in the market in hopes that the teams can collect customer feedback on the new store.
The new design itself revolved around four major elements:
Brand Equity. As the current Disney Store design (called Imagination Park) has shown the team, it was very difficult to highlight each of Disney’s brands and related products equally since the entire theme of the store was around a literal park (e.g. Marvel superheroes next to trees, brick pathways, castle, etc.). The new store design is less themed in hopes that each of the brands and products could easily be incorporated within a set space and highlighted equally.
Product Showcase. The Imagination Park design also made the entire store a difficult place to find a specific product due to the layout and other important elements like shelves and showcases. The new store fixes that problem with accessible shelving, white walls, and opportunities to highlight the products themselves outside of the boxes with customizable product displays.
Accessibility. Disney Store understood that many of their customers would be families with younger kids and money-enabled parents often playing double-duty as shopper and parent. Parents often shared feedback that they wanted to be able to have an easier experience shopping and making sure their kids were entertained, which was difficult with the Imagination Park design due to the high shelves and dimly lit lights. The prototype stores lower all the shelves to slightly lower than eye-level and cranked up the lighting.
Entertainment. If you’ve passed a Disney Store before, you probably saw a lot more entertaining going on than you did shopping. That doesn’t change with the prototype stores as there is an interactive section with games and crafts available for kids. Additionally, each prototype store now has a large LED screen in the front where live-streams of parades from Disney’s Parks will be shown every afternoon, all led by a Disney Store employee who will encourage the kids and parents throughout.
While the physical changes to the store are big, Disney Store also understood that its modern consumer was not just families, but everyone from Millennials to young Millennial families. To better serve those customers, shopDisney was created.
It’s the new e-commerce hub for anything and everything Disney, including licensee products that usually cater to those more mature Disney fans who want a very detailed Star Wars watch to Captain America toasters. “We know our fans are looking for a one-stop-shop to find the most compelling product out there and with shopDisney we are uniquely positioned to curate the very best of Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel merchandise,” said Paul Gainer, Executive Vice President for Disney Retail.
When you visit DisneyStore.com, you’ll now be taken to shopDisney.com where you’ll be met with an entirely new design that reflect the contemporary and modern look of the new prototype retail stores. At the same time, each of the new prototype stores will feature licensee products on shelves in a rather large section of each store. However, all of the shopDisney licensee products will not be available to take home with you. Instead, you’ll be asked to head to the new website to make the purchase and have it shipped to you directly.
The highlight of the new website is a section where you can search for products based on a particular character. In our demo, it was a fluid experience when searching for Moana merchandise as the system produced nearly every product that had the princess on it.
Clearly, the new physical Disney Stores and shopDisney online store are a reflection of modern retail. While many retail purchases are now being done via the Internet, people are still looking to head into a store to be inspired or make a small purchase if they feel like it. These two retail revamps are a good attempt at responding to what the modern consumer wants from Disney as a company and as a retail giant.
Disney Store was also right to be able to address the fact that their modern consumer and fan are no longer just families, but younger, single people who have smartphones and some type of spending money. By creating spaces where those potential customers can get a watch, shirt, toaster, or anything else that fits their lifestyle, Disney is hoping that will open up another revenue stream for their already successful retail operation.
As with any type of overhaul (especially with Disney), change will come slowly. Disney Store representatives said that the shopDisney site and prototype stores will be modified based on what feedback customers give in the next few months. Additionally, the prototype store design will only rollout to a few more stores this year in the U.S. and internationally sometime next year.
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It has been a busy season for Walt Disney Imagineering. The team that is responsible for turning Disney’s movies into real-life experiences had debuted new projects at the major U.S. Disney resorts that had one thing in common – they had Pixar all over it.
Disney has benefitted heavily from its purchase of the small animation studio once led by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. While much of the studio’s attention have been about its films, not much attention has been given to the physical manifestations of its films into its theme parks.
With the exception of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure debuted in 2012, Disney’s theme parks have had a small presence of Pixar-themed attractions. This summer, that all changed with the debut of an entire Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World and Pixar Pier at Disneyland Resort.
Like most projects that are inspired by Disney films, Disney’s Imagineers often work directly with the animators, writers, and others who worked on those films to create new assets for the theme parks. As one might imagine, that work in just asking Pixar’s team questions alone, can be quite difficult when it comes to scale and scope to ensure that everything that’s built is authentic to the films.
It was that need for authenticity and collaboration that Pixar decided to create an in-house team that would be dedicated to handling all theme park projects. The so-call Pixar Theme Parks team began as a very small operation formed by Liz Gazzano and Roger Gould, people who worked for the shorts department at the studio, back in 2007 around the time that Imagineers were building Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland Park.
Today, the team consists of about 20 people, including Tasha Sounart.
Sounart has been with Pixar for a collective 16 years in various roles, including animator. She has been on the Theme Parks team for 3 years and shares responsibility of the entire team to direct and consult with Imgineering and outside teams to make sure Pixar’s stories and shared the right way.
“We took it upon ourselves to make sure that everything they were doing on the parks were matching what we were doing on our films,” she said to us in a recent phone interview. “Today, we really still serve as consultants to anything that includes our characters, from shows, marketing, merchandise, and attractions.”
One of those recent attractions that the team worked on was Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure park. It was a unique project, according to Sounart, for a variety of different reasons. “The schedule was a large challenge since there was a limited amount of time for the teams to build in things like the Incredicoaster when it was scheduled to go down for refurbishment.”
Another challenge that the team had to brainstorm on for a while was the idea of creating the Pixar character neighborhoods that would make up the re-imagined Paradise Pier. “The space already had Toy Story Mania! and what would be the Incredicoaster, so we figured out how to celebrate many Pixar characters in a fixed area.” Sounart went on to say that identifying the concept went through other iterations to make sure that the implementation of the stories of each of these characters from their movies wouldn’t be ‘questioned.’
Sounart herself worked primarily on Lamplight Lounge, which presented its own challenges. “It’s the first ever space that we’ve worked on that was meant to celebrate Pixar, the company,” she said. “We didn’t want to make it look cheap or fake because it’s meant to be reflection of quality of work we do at the studio.”
While many locals and visitors who have visited Pixar Pier since its opening this summer have enjoyed the ‘new’ area, a lot of uncertainty still remains. With the re-imagining of an existing area, the levels of enjoyment over time might come into question. For instance, a roller coaster that is loosely based off a sequel to a movie and carnival games that highlight long-gone Pixar animated shorts might not be as enjoyable as it is today.
When asked if Pixar Pier would change with the times and more revenant Pixar movies that come out, Sounart seemed to agree. “When we were making this (Pixar Pier), we were always thinking of ways of how we could refresh it.”
However, she did mention that they are only part of the process when it comes to what Pixar experiences end up in Disney’s theme parks. “We have these brainstorming sessions when new films come out. At the end of the day, we bring the ideas, but they are paying for it and in control of the budgets.”
But that creative and business tension is nothing new to her and the rest of the Pixar Theme Parks team. In fact, they are excited to explore new opportunities with Imagineering that include how they could refresh Pixar Pier.
“We already have some really fun ideas, so I’m hoping they could happen,” Sounart said. “Our next film will be Toy Story 4, so hopefully we get to refresh the area with something from that. We have ideas!”
Our special thanks to Tasha Sounart and Pixar for the interview opportunity for this story.
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Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney’s death and celebrations were had in various forms, including D23’s official Walt Week tribute walls where guests at Disney Parks could post their own sentiments about the man. While many of those notes were simple like “thank you,” many tributes were basically a spelled out version of something that I’ve seen and heard of in the past:
“You’re truly the most inspirational person there ever was.”
“You made my life great because of what you made.”
“You are perfect.”
No, these people weren’t talking about a deity or demigod. They were talking about Walt Disney. There’s much to agree with on the super Disney fans’ statements. There’s no denying that throughout his life he did some amazing things that were revolutionary and great in scale and effect, but the truth of the matter was that Walt Disney didn’t think he was great at all.
“He would have laughed if he heard a lot of those things,” said Disney Legend Floyd Norman. “He wasn’t a perfect man and he knew it.”
Norman, along with other Disney Legends like songwriter Richard Sherman and animator Andreas Deja were on hand for the launch of the new Walt Disney Film Archives book in Beverly Hills last night, the exact day 50 years ago that Walt passed. It was a fitting night as the book itself reminded them of who Walt really was because they knew him personally or through people who did.
While they remember the results of Walt’s good work, they also remember the difficulties of working with him along the way.
“There are still a lot of misconceptions about who he really was,” said Sherman at the event. “He was a really good man with a kind heart, but we didn’t take advantage of it.”
“He was really focused,” said Deja. “That focus might have rubbed off on people if they didn’t know that’s how Walt worked.” The criticisms that Deja was alluding to were deeply emphasized in the PBS documentary that aired last year, that varied from dealing with sexism and competition to lack of passion and attention to detail.
While those troubling aspects of Walt were never really highlighted because of the public nature of his good works, they still ought to be acknowledged in some way because Walt himself would want you to. “I think it was important to him that people criticized him,” Norman said. “Everything he did was for them, not him. I genuinely believe that.”
Deja added, “Inspiration is different from admiration. I think you can be inspired by his work, but I think you’re doing Walt a favor by looking back from afar and seeing him for who he really was – a human who was trying to do good.”
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