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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Disney has a new way to buy merch in the parks, but it has some passholders worried

Posted By on Thu, Dec 17, 2020 at 5:50 PM

click to enlarge The World of Disney shop at Disney Springs - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • The World of Disney shop at Disney Springs
From automation to working from home, the pandemic has sped up many trends that were already underway before this year, and like many companies, Disney is using the current shift in consumer behavior as a way to roll out programs it has planned for years.

Nearly 90 percent of all payments within Disney parks are now cashless, and mobile ordering has increased more than ninefold. The shift comes as Disney parks heavily push their mobile apps, creating Quibi-style video series and offering various exclusive games accessible while exclusively within the corresponding lands.

Now Disney has rolled out another feature of the app that is sure to be a hit with many park-goers. When entering select gift shops, guests can pick up clear bags, do their shopping, and scan items via their phones before placing them into the bag. Then when they’re ready to leave, they can check out via the app, skipping the checkout line. The shopping app applies all applicable discounts, and keeps virtual receipts if anything needs to be returned. When leaving, guests show an attendant near the door their phone with the checkout QR code. Nearby a small kiosk has boxes and wrapping paper available.

It’s not surprising that the option was rolled out during the pandemic, now that physical distancing is paramount to safety. Numerous other retailers have begun featuring similar scan-and-go programs, many of which are proving far more popular than similar efforts just a few years prior.

Disney’s move comes as the company tries to slow the pandemic-fueled losses. Since the pandemic has begun, the Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products division, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of all employees at the company, has lost billions of dollars in revenue. Mobile-based self-checkout will likely decrease the demand for cashiers, helping the company eliminate some positions while not negatively impacting the guest experience.

That isn’t enough to stop one group of frequent guests from worrying about the introduction of mobile checkout. Privately, Disney resellers, known within the Disney fan community as "eBay pirates," have expressed concern regarding the shift to mobile checkout.

In recent years, these "pirates" have become a common sighting across Disney parks, where they sometimes help create hours-long lines and cause limited-edition merchandise to be sold out in a matter of minutes. Fans frequently take to social media asking Disney to crack down on the resellers, who can be spotted carrying trash bags full of new merchandise.

Disney tries to limit merchandise reselling with purchase limits, typically 10 per item though lower for some more popular items, and has gone so far as revoking the annual passes of some resellers. Annual pass, Disney Vacation Club, and other discounts are to be used by the person the pass or club membership is linked to, though resellers frequently use these discounts. Annual passes are for personal use only, with all forms of commercial activity explicitly banned. This includes not only using the pass to access the parks and their exclusive merchandise in order to purchase items to resell, but also commercial photography, including that of influencers, and holding unofficial events within the parks.

While Walt Disney World has been known to mostly look the other way regarding such activities on the West Coast, there are occasional annual passholder purges where multiple eBay pirates have their passes revoked.

Some resellers visit multiple locations to get around the limits. There are also occasional reports of some store managers holding back items for resellers they know will be visiting. This symbiotic relationship between managers and resellers help keep sales at those locations up, as resellers seek out these managers who are more likely to let them skirt the rules.

As more of the shopping experience becomes automated via the app, these loopholes may become less exploitable.

This wouldn’t be the first group that Disney has gone after in recent years. Changes to how Disney Vacation Club members can resell their points all but eliminated much of the independent resell market. Disney also cracked down on many private concierge tour companies that were abusing disability pass access after a 2013 New York Post story went viral. In 2014, Disney also began cracking down on vacation planners who used copyrighted terms in advertising Disney vacation planner services.

With new leadership in place across Disney parks, it’s still too early to tell how they will respond to the various third-party industries that ignore Disney rules. One thing is clear: The use of technology, especially via mobile devices, within Disney parks will only continue to expand. So next time you plan to visit a Disney park, remember to take that phone charger with you; you’ll probably going to need it.

The mobile self-checkout is currently available at Epcot's MouseGear, Everything POP at the Pop Century Resort, and the World of Disney at Downtown Disney in the Disneyland Resort. More stores are expected to be added in the coming weeks.

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