Disney Stores Get the Apple Magic


The New York Times reported yesterday that entertainment super giant Disney (s dis) is planning to reboot its entire chain of global retail stores as part of a major new strategy and vision inspired and guided by Apple CEO Steve Jobs (s aapl).

In the current economic climate, most retailers are looking for ways to cut down on spending and holding-back on investment and growth initiatives. But according to the New York Times’ Brooks Barnes, Disney is taking a leaf out of Apple’s book and using the economy’s downtime to reinvent its own retail stores.

Disney is… getting more aggressive and putting into motion an expensive and ambitious floor-to-ceiling reboot of its 340 stores in the United States and Europe — as well as opening new ones.

This mirrors Apple’s own aggressive efforts in the last 18 months to refurbish existing stores and open whole new outlets. It’s a strategy that’s paying off. In August, Bloomberg reported that Apple’s retail stores were performing consistently well, despite the economic downturn.

Apple… increased revenue at its stores by 2.5 percent in the first six months of the year to $3 billion as the rest of the retail industry suffered. During the same period, sales at all U.S. retailers fell 9.2 percent compared with the first half of 2008, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

So the investment and growth strategy is working well for Apple, and clearly Disney is hoping that some of Steve’s retail magic might rub off on it.


Steve Jobs joined Disney’s board of directors as the majority shareholder in 2006, and, according to Barnes, “…[his] fingerprints can be seen on Disney strategy, in the same way that he influenced the look and feel of Apple’s own immensely popular retail chain.” And while Jobs didn’t personally develop Disney’s new retail strategy, he pushed the company to go for much more than a standard refurbishment. Andy Mooney, Chairman of Disney Consumer Products, is quoted saying, “Dream bigger — that was Steve’s message,” Certainly sounds like Steve, doesn’t it?

And the dream is big. Emphasis has moved away from regarding the Disney stores as merely merchandise outlets to something far more grand. “The world does not need another place to sell Disney merchandise — this only works if it’s an experience,” said Jim Fielding, President of Disney Stores Worldwide. “When consumers are ready to spend again, we will be ready.”

The new stores will include theaters for children to watch their favourite Disney features, karaoke contests and even live satellite chat with Disney stars around the world. Smart displays with embedded sensors and audio/video components will create personalised experiences for shoppers. “Walk by a ‘magic mirror’ while holding a Princess tiara,” writes Barnes, “and Cinderella might appear and say something to you.”

In addition to the theater (in itself reminiscent of Apple Store’s own in-store lecture and learning space), the new Disney stores will allow customers to interact with the high-tech fixtures and fittings via their iPhones. Employees will brandish hand-held payment devices, just as they do in Apple Stores.

Steve Jobs shared detailed documents on Apple’s expertise in retail store development and management, while Disney Executives paid visits to Apple stores. According to Barnes, there was even a ‘pilot’ store to iron-out the wrinkles. Steve Jobs insisted Disney create a prototype store, which it dubbed “Imagination Park.”

The company followed his advice, working for the last year on a full-scale, fully stocked store inside an unmarked warehouse in Glendale, California. The prototype was crucial to shaping an overall philosophy, Mr. Fielding said, noting that he discovered the shops needed more “Pixar-esque winks and nods.” To that end, one sales area is now labeled “WWTD: What Would Tinker Bell Do?”

The new stores will be unveiled in May 2010 in Southern California, Long Island and Madrid. Disney is also planning to create a new flagship store in Times Square, New York.