Disney’s First “Apple Inspired” Store Steps Up Interactive Shopping Experience

By Tom Ryan, Managing Editor, RetailWire

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s recent online discussions. Each business morning on, retail industry execs get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a “BrainTrust” panel of retail industry experts.

The Walt Disney Co. last week opened the first of its 300 planned revamped Disney Stores in Montebello, CA. Inspired by Apple Inc.’s design team, the store features multimedia technology and interactive storytelling with a goal of keeping shoppers entertained for 30 minutes.

Among the features of the 4,800 square foot store:


  • A Pixar RIDEMAKERZ area that allows people to assemble and accessorize their favorite Cars character. A wide selection of rims, side pipes, hoods scoops, blown engines, spoilers and other accessories enables customer to customize the cars to their liking;
  • A child-sized Disney Princess Castle including a “Magic Mirror,” in which a Disney princess can be summoned with a wave of the wand to tell stories to children.
  • A Disney Store Theatre featuring classic and new Disney entertainment. Customers can also use a touch screen to play music videos, movie trailers and other film shorts on a 12-foot screen in a gazebo-like theater enclosure. In the vein of Apple’s lecture spaces, the theater will also serve for special in-store events such as reading time, scavenger hunts and other activities;
  • Touch-screen kiosks placed around the store give users the ability to navigate a 3-D animated view of all Disney Store and products and discover the latest Disney Store news via video clips, articles, and social media feeds. Customers can then share what they viewed online via e-mail, Twitter and Facebook;
  • Thirteen-foot trees surrounding the store are programmable with changing colors, images, and music set to an array of Disney themes;
  • A Pixie Dust Trail that leading guests through the store and the major interactive elements;
  • A scent, called “Imagination,” supporting store ambience;
  • Employees carry miniature receipt printers for mobile checkout.

Due to mounting costs, Disney licensed most of its stores in 2004, including to The Children’s Place in the U.S. But the company repurchased about 220 locations in 2008 while closing 100 doors in the U.S. in the process. Last year, it tapped proprietary information about the Apple Stores’ development and operation and also hired Apple Store designers in preparing for a relaunch.

“The issue for Disney, compared to other retailers, is that they have to be extra good in stores, because their product is sold in other kinds of stores,” George Whalin, a retail consultant and RetailWire BrainTrust Panelist, told MediaPost. But he added that hiring Apple’s designers was “a stroke of genius.” Combining the new interactive-elements with its character franchises and marketing clout, “they’ve got the wherewithal to do something truly magical.”

Other peers on the BrainTrust panel also applaud Disney’s efforts to enhance the customer experience. “Disney Stores are moving from ‘selling chotchkies,’ like mouse ears and tees (we’ve all bought them), and have them stored in the attic, to using that marvelous DISNEY magic and innovation to engage the consumer, said Roger Saunders, Managing Director, Prosper Business Development/BIGResearch. “In the process, they’ll still move a fair amount of memorabilia, but they will capture a larger ticket, frequency, and enhance the ‘brand.’ Sharp move!”

While the BrainTrust panel experts and industry analysts alike agree that this concept is innovative and sure to wow customers, others are concerned about the ROI, or lack thereof, for Disney Stores. “What kind of high-end products will the Disney store carry to generate those dollars?” said Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research. “Is it going to be like the old FAO Schwartz, or are they going to make it up in volume? Can’t tell based on the Children’s Place management experience. Until I understand that side of the equation, I can’t predict the magic becoming a Golden Goose.” 

The Disney name combined with the influence and Apple name can make re-opening and a sense of rebranding successful over time,” said Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions. “I, too, wonder what products and markup will need to be sold to make it financially viable. The two names alone will bring the public in to look. And where there are lookers there are buyers.”

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