5 E-Commerce Lessons to Learn From Walt Disney World

A visit to a Disney theme park – any one of them around the world – is one of those long cherished childhood dreams that nearly every kid who know Mickey Mouse has harbored. Why kids, I know a lot of adults who still look forward with bated breath to a trip to the ‘happiest place on earth’.

A big part of the magic of Disney’s theme parks comes from the magic of their movies. Our association of the Disney brand with carefree, childhood hours spent watching the Sunday morning cartoons automatically makes it a place we treasure. Disney movies, however sappy, have a way of resonating with audiences across age barriers. However, that’s only part of the story. The majority of the charm that Disney Parks hold, lies in the masterful marketing strategies that Disney has developed and mastered into a fine art, over the years.

If there’s one brand that I would want to learn marketing from, it’d be Disney. It’s happy, it’s aspirational, it’s addictive and most importantly, profitable. Instead of gushing on and on about Disney and their spectacular marketing, I think it’ll be more interesting to reconfigure my understanding of Disney’s magic to the e-commerce domain. So, here goes!

1. The Devil is in the Details

While designing their e-commerce sites, most entrepreneurs zero in on a template that suits them best and then replicate the template across webpages all across the site. The trouble with this cookie cutter approach is that we often overlook little things that make all the difference between good and great user experience.

Take Disney’s parks for example. The management goes to extraordinary lengths to manage every tiny detail of their sprawling theme parks and resorts. ‘Hidden Mickeys’ that pop up around the theme parks and resorts is something every true Disney fan-boy tries to unearth. There’s even a whole website dedicated to unearthing hidden Mickeys! Chuck Rylant recalls noticing Mickey Mouse ears at the unlikeliest of places all over the Disney Resort he and his family stayed at. From bathroom faucet handles to lamps to the top of the shampoo bottles in their hotel room, everything was shaped like Mickey ears.

Mickey Mouse pancakes at a Disney park resortMickey Mouse pancakes at a Disney park resort

Takeaway: Mickey Mouse is the very heart of Disney and its theme parks. It’s their most identifiable icon and they get the maximum mileage out of it. Do the same with your e-commerce site. Pick an icon or a signature theme that can be used or adapted in different ways across your site. It doesn’t even have to be imagery. Use microcopy that amuses and helps out simultaneously in your web forms or your tool tips to make the experience of navigating your site and completing a purchase a tad easier and a lot more entertaining.

2. Appeal to Your Customer’s Emotional Side

If you had to use pure logic to plan a wedding you probably would not opt to throw a lavish party for hundreds of people you barely know and spend thousands of your hard earned money on one-time things like a fancy suite or a designer wedding dress. But you go ahead and do it because you’re swept away in the emotion of it all.

Ditto with Disney’s theme parks. The average cost of four member family vacation to any of Disney’s theme parks can pay for a small car. But you still go ahead and do it, because Disney convinces you that you’re going to have the best time of your lives on this trip. Disney taps into this wellspring of nostalgia, happiness and voila, you fork over ridiculous amounts of money to go to a theme park. Emotions win over rational thought.

A toddler being swept off her feet by Mickey MouseA toddler being swept off her feet by Mickey Mouse

Takeaway: Your e-commerce site may not have the huge emotional equity that Disney already enjoys with its target audience, but you definitely have the advantage of knowing that tapping into your users’ emotions will get you to their wallets. If your audience is eco-conscious, you’re assured of an emotional connection by offering eco-friendly packaging material for shipping their purchases even at a slight premium. Appeal to the right emotion for the right target audience. When you strike the right emotional chord, your cash register will make some very pretty music!

3. Consistency is Key

How frustrating is it when your sliced bread simply refuses to fit into your toaster’s standard sized slot, right when you’re in a tearing hurry to get to work. After a few vile curses to the bakery that decided to get ‘creative’ with the thickness of their bread, you vow to switch to a brand that makes standard sized bread loaves to save yourself future agony. That’s just a small example of what happens when consistency is thrown to the winds. In spite of all our claims to individuality and uniqueness, consistency in everyday things keeps us grounded and soothes our way through life.

This is an area Disney truly excels at. From the costumes its cast members wear in the theme parks to the way each cast member stays completely in character even when doing something mundane like giving directions to the way the exact same experience gets served to a completely new set of over-excited guests to even the clockwork precision with which long queues form at every ride without fail (!), consistency is a lesson that Disney lives breathes every single moment.

The Mouseketeers circa 1955The Mouseketeers circa 1955

Takeaway: We discussed earlier about how once the design and layout of a site is fixed, very little changes. However simply carrying forward the same look for all your webpages is not enough. A great e-commerce experience extends beyond your website alone. Every moment-of-truth that your brand has with the customer can be made consistent with your overall brand guidelines and personality. From your order confirmation email that carries forward your website’s design aesthetics to packaging material that bears a throwback to your site to a customer care representative who greets users with your signature welcome line to your social media voice that amplifies your brand personality; each step should reflect the same look and feel for that true ‘wow’ factor.

4. Don’t Forget the Human (Mousey?) Touch

One of the most common pictures that any family album from a trip to Disneyland is a picture with Mickey, Minnie or any of the hundreds of cast members dotting the park. There are even special events at many Disney parks where guests can pay to have share a meal with Mickey and gang. While you may have to wait for hours in queue for your favorite ride, most days your request for a quick handshake, hug or even photo-op with a cast member is fulfilled instantly. This simple fact reflects the extent to which Disney emphasizes the human touch in their parks. The frustration of waiting forever for a ride simply evaporates when Snow White plants a big kiss on your toddler’s cheek and poses with her for a once in a lifetime picture.

A guest gets a personal wave from every cast member at closing hoursA guest gets a personal wave from every cast member at closing hours

These personal touches don’t end at the park gates. When you walk into a reservation at Disney’s resorts, the staff doesn’t need an introduction from you. They already know who you are and where you’re coming from. Chances are, you’ll even get a personalized greeting complete with your name as you first walk in the doors. How’s that for human touch? After service like that, you’ll be spoilt for every non-Disney hotel you’ll book for the next decade at least.

Takeaway: Just because your customers can’t see your face but only your website doesn’t stop you from adding human touches to your site. Offer a personalized greeting when a signed in customer arrives on your site to instantly offer an element of surprise and happiness. Show returning customers items similar to what they browsed for last or items complementary to items they bought last. This tells users that you remember them as people and not just as credit card numbers. Another easy way to extend that human touch is to offer live chat support when a user dawdles for too long on a product page or in the middle of the checkout process.

5. Don’t be Shy to Upsell. Disney isn’t

Most e-commerce sites are simply thankful that the customer finally completed their checkout process and finally bought something, instead of simply window shopping. The thought of complicating matters by trying to get the customer to buy a more expensive version of their chosen product or even pushing them into buying accessories and other paraphernalia for the product that they just bought can be rather daunting.

But trust Disney parks to be right on the money when it comes to upsell and cross-sell. Book a trip to a Disney park online and you’ll soon enough start getting emails nudging you to upgrade to better tickets that will help you jump the queue at rides, book a nicer hotel room at the resort attached to the theme park and so on.

Frontierland Stores at Disneyland ParksFrontierland Stores at Disneyland Parks

The price you pay for the entry into Mickey Mouse’s kingdom is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you walk through those gates, there are stores selling little (mostly useless) trinkets and movie merchandise at every step. At the end of every ride, you literally walk through a toy store themed around the ride you just took. How any parent gets out of these without buying something for their nagging kids is a miracle to me.

Takeaway: One of the most under-done, yet most easily doable activity on e-commerce sites is upselling items to a customer who’s already buying a particular item. If Disney’s upsell and cross sell strategies don’t impress you enough, I’m sure e-commerce behemoth Amazon’s attempts will be more up your alley. Not only do they immediately offer a complementary item on the product page itself, they also offer more items similar to the one being viewed on the product page. The thank you page often carries a cross-sell message prompting viewers to buy complementary items and so on. It doesn’t end with the purchase. Even after you buy an item, you’ll get emails from Amazon reminding you of exclusive deals on the products that are similar to what you bought last.

In Conclusion

I began this post by trying to derive insights from Disney’s masterful marketing to apply them to an e-commerce setting. I also resolved that I’d stop gushing like a Disney fan-boy. However, by the end of this post, you’ve probably realized that fan-boys can be recognized from a mile away and I’m definitely guilty as charged. If only I could transpose those Disney marketing smarts to my business and I’d be a happy camper!

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

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