Oh Boy Disney Bridges the PhysicalDigital Divide

Oh Boy! Disney Bridges the Physical-Digital Divide

3 minute read
Barry Levine avatar

For decades, The Walt Disney Co. has been bridging the divide between animation and live action, as well as physical and on screen realities. Now it may be championing ways to bridge the divide between digital and physical retailing.

A recent brief from Forrester Research suggests the company that led the way in theme parks, multi product branding and unique physical retailing could also be a pioneer here. "Brief: Disney Leads the Charge Across the Digital-Physical Divide" [fee charged] looks at Disney's MyMagic+, a $1 billion, next gen tech customer experience.

As Mickey Mouse might say, "Oh boy!"

Transforming Guest Experiences


MyMagic+ reportedly "takes your Walt Disney World vacation to an all new level."  These personalized, waterproof wristbands employ radio frequency (RF), or Bluetooth technology. Adults can use them to make payments, open hotel room doors and provide their children with set spending limits. On the planning board: the ability for Disney characters to greet children in the park by name and even wish them, say, happy birthday, if the parents have so enabled their MagicBands.

FastPass+ is an updated ride and event digital reservation system. The My Disney Experience website can be used for hotel info, dining reservations, virtual park tours, itinerary creation and FastPass+ reservations, while the mobile app offers similar functionality on the go in the park.

Forrester notes that Disney isn't the only pioneer blending the distinctions between online and offline. Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), Macy's, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Starbucks are also engaged in similar multi dimensional experiences.

MLB and NFL will feature iBeacon enabled experiences for fans in stadiums  within the next year, offering ticketing, directions, location related videos and discounts and other features.

Unique Experiences

Burberry will have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips attached to clothes that prompt related photos and videos when the clothes are brought near screens in fitting areas. Lowe's has a smartphone app for finding where a product is in its store, Starwood enables guests to unlock hotel room doors with their smartphones and Starbucks allows payment via Square or Apple Passbook apps.

Learning Opportunities

This brief focuses entirely on large retailers with a very unique in store experience. Disney's theme parks, after all, are the ultimate example of physical retail spaces that can never be duplicated online.

The digital enhancements highlighted in this brief do increase efficiency, personalize experiences and boost loyalty/reward programs.

But, since these are unique retail experiences, they don't address the key tension in the physical/digital divide: why should I buy this commodity product in the physical store when I can browse the Net and get a better deal?

Some physical retailers with commodity products are attempting to address this, offering price guarantees against any Net deal, providing fast home delivery via online shopping (and essentially becoming distribution centers) or adding in store value like live musicians.

Perhaps the real divide is not between digital and physical retail experiences, but between those companies, like Disney and Major League Baseball, that are immune to digital replication, and those, like Best Buy, that are not.

Title image from The Walt Disney Co.