Disney shopping

Improving Disney Shopping

Just read the latest post on Progress City USA, TEN WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR #8: OVERHAUL PARK MERCHANDISE.  I completely agree with the points raised about the depressing increase in  homogenization of merchandise available throughout the Disney parks.  

I too, remember a time when the Orange Bird was found at the Tiki Room, and where land-specific merchandise was available.  A time when Main Street, USA’s Emporium shop didn’t run the full length of the street (when Center Street was an actual street separating the two show buildings instead of what we have today).

I want to buy a “Walt Disney World” sweatshirt, not a “Disney Parks” sweatshirt.

I have found myself visiting both Disneyland and Walt Disney World on numerous shopping missions over the years, only to walk away empty-handed and with a full wallet.  There is no doubt that there are plenty of things to buy at the Disney parks, especially if you are a once-in-a-lifetime visitor — but there is often nothing new of interest to the Disney Fan to buy beyond pins.   (Pin collecting and trading is a wonderful hobby, but it does not appeal to everybody.)     And really, how many Duck Butt hats does one family need?

I have lost count of the number of hours I have spent specifically wandering Downtown Disney’s shops looking for something I didn’t already have. Or something that I just had to have. Or something that I didn’t see from my last visit…or the year before…or the year before that.  I’ve looked for housewares that weren’t tacky, clothing that didn’t scream “cartoon” that wasn’t a T-shirt, specific character adult watches that could be worn to the office, collectible art pieces that would draw “ooohs” from visitors.  I know these items used to exist — I have purchased them in the past, as have many other Disney Fans. 

I just can’t find any of these things today.

I can’t be the only consumer who WANTS to give Disney my money, only to find nothing of interest to spend it on.  In today’s economy, any company that finds itself unable to sell product to a consumer who is eager to buy may eventually find itself in trouble.

This can’t be a good thing.

But it’s not just an issue with park merchandise.  The Disney Store and Disney Catalog both catered to the hardcore Disney fan up through the late 1990’s.  Both were created as extensions of the park shopping experience, and browsing the store or the catalog was akin to shopping at the parks.  Both offered a wide-range of products covering all characters, and had items for people of all ages.  

However, it was at that time when The Disney Store began its slow decline into what we know today, yet another children’s branded clothing and toy store at the umpteenth strip mall.  And the Disney Catalog is no more (and at the end, it was really just a shell of its former self).   Before, a trip to the city’s only Disney Store — if your city was lucky enough to have one — was a special occasion destination.  Today, I can drive 30 minutes in any direction and hit four Disney Stores and a Disney Store Outlet.  And if I bothered to step foot in any of them, I can guarantee there won’t be anything worth buying that I can’t get anywhere else.  And God forbid if you’re looking for anything that isn’t child-related.

A few years ago, I contacted Disney Merchandising to tell them how difficult it was getting to find character clothing for adults compared to how things used to be.  I was initially pleased to get a personal reply from a higher-up, until I read what was written:

Thank you for your feedback regarding your thoughts regarding Disney merchandise. I wanted to let you know that we are working on several new enhancements online that will expand the number of choices our guest will have, both in character choice and product selection. Some of the items you had mentioned were created by our online shopping web site,

Once I have my Blue Polo Shirt with the Mickey Embroidery, why would I want to come back?  Or what if I don’t want a ringer style t-shirt?  Or don’t care for the character design being used?  Or want something other than an embroidered head in the traditional upper-left logo zone?  If Design-Your-Own is going to be the only solution for obtaining character merchandise in adult sizes — unless the selection options are significantly increased and refreshed on a regular basis, Disney may find themselves cutting out a huge potential audience that will find somewhere else to spend their money. 

All Disney has to do is return to making merchandise special. “Plus” the shopping experience again. Cater merchandise to all customers, not just the kids. And remember to market all the characters like they used to do.  Not all women want Tinkerbell or Princess merch. Not all men want Grumpy, Goofy, or Big Bad Wolf items.   Not everyone wants a T-shirt, baseball cap, boxer shorts, or coffee mug.  Give us variety.  Give us quality.  Give us something other than what you currently are doing.

Disney has a worldwide audience eager to spend money.  The question is whether Disney will be smart enough to sell them the right stuff.

Disney is focused on offering a broad selection of character choices in a variety of different items and we look forward to growing the offering over the coming year.  Please feel free to send me any additional comments or thoughts you may have.

At, we have recently launched a create your own polo program that allows you to select the color and character for your polo.  We also have a customized t-shirt shop, which allows you to not only pick the character and art of your choice but also the size and placement of the art on the t-shirt.  We are using this format to expand into other product categories in the fall, including throws, sweatshirts and greeting cards.
The Design-Your-Own items on (or the Hanes T-Shirt factory at Downtown Disney) is not a valid solution to the problem of lack of unique park or store merchandise.  Disney is still giving the customer a limited number of choices in product, design, placement, etc.  The character designs for many legacy characters on, for example, have not been updated since the Design Shop was rolled out years ago.�

2 replies on “Improving Disney Shopping”

Well, there’s not much to say except that I pretty much agree with every single thing that you said. I think you perfectly express the same frustration that I’ve had trying to find something that I want to buy at WDW. The sheer madness of actually proactively *looking* for something to spend money on and not being able to find anything just blows my mind. Also, your descriptions of the current merchandise made me laugh because I think anyone that’s been down there in recent years knows exactly what you’re talking about. The crass, mindless nature of much of the current merchandise were perfectly summed up. Thanks for the post!

I’m a few years late in commenting on this article, but I will anyway. I just returned from my first visit to Walt Disney World in over a decade, and I was really surprised by how underwhelming the merchandise was in pretty much all of the stores across the resort. After all, I was almost as excited to visit the stores again as I was to ride the rides, but I quickly found that it was pretty much the same boring selection of run-of-the-mill character crap in store after store. The stuff in Tomorrowland or on Sunset Blvd. was pretty much the same stuff you could find in the hotel gift shop. I was hugely disappointed and left the resort with nothing but a Mickey’s Mini Garden.

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