Disney Exploring Amazon Prime Style Membership Program with Park Discounts
Disney is exploring a membership program that could offer discounts and special perks to encourage customers to spend more at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as well as streaming services, merchandise and more, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.
The program would be somewhat akin to Amazon Prime, which offers free shipping, product integration, discounts at Whole Foods, exclusive Prime Day deals, plus a variety of digital media services included in an annual fee. Of course, Disney and Amazon have fundamentally different businesses, so Disney’s offering would likely be materially different.
According to WSJ, executives inside the Walt Disney Company have referred to their initiative as “Disney Prime.” That’s likely an informal or codename for the project. Although everything these days has a “plus” added to the end of it, an official name of Disney Prime would be too similar to the Amazon offering that’s serving as inspiration.
Discussions at Disney are in the early stages, per WSJ. Pretty much everything about “Disney Prime” is unknown at this point. How much the company would charge for membership, how long it would take the company to launch such a program, and what it would entail.
By creating a membership program, the company’s goal would be keeping consumers in the Disney ecosystem longer, which would likely be achieved by offering more value for money. This would in turn get people to spend more on the company’s products and services.
It would also provide Disney with a treasure trove of data, consumer analytics, and other information about their preferences. (Worth noting here that, historically, Disney has a weak track record of putting consumer data to use. As much as it might like to be, Disney is not a tech company.)
According to WSJ, the “Disney Prime” effort is supported by CEO Bob Chapek, who has been vocal internally and publicly about the opportunity for Disney to do more to cross-sell to customers. (This definitely has all of the hallmarks of a Chapek initiative; if there’s anything he truly gets, it’s consumer products and synergies.)
“Technology is giving us new ways to customize and personalize the consumer experience so that we are delivering entertainment, experiences and products that are most relevant to each of our guests,” said Kristina Schake, senior executive vice president and chief communications officer at Disney, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
“A membership program is just one of the exciting ideas that is being explored.” Disney already has a special program for superfans, the D23 Official Fan Club. The individual gold tier costs $99.99 per year and comes with access to exclusive events and merchandise. That club also offered members a discounted three-year subscription to Disney+ back at the last D23 Expo, and many fans are expecting something similar in a couple of weeks at the 2022 D23 Expo.
This new “Disney Prime” membership program would be different in that it would be targeted at more casual consumers.
As an early step to better link Disney products and services, Disney is working to enable subscribers to its Disney+ streaming service to buy merchandise associated with some of its shows by scanning a code on the service, people familiar with the plan told the WSJ. The company expects to introduce that feature as soon as this year.
(While the Wall Street Journal positions its piece as a leak or rumor, it’s more than that. Disney cooperated with the article, providing direct quotes and background. To me, this reads as another puff piece for investors or Wall Street, and one that was almost certainly ‘placed’ in the WSJ by the company itself.)
Turning to commentary, I’ll admit to being ‘cautiously curious’ about Disney’s potential loyalty or membership program. We are an Amazon Prime household, purchasing extensively from that online juggernaut while also watching a lot of that streaming service (and various add-on channels), listening to their music, taking advantage of in-store discounts at Whole Foods, and other value-adds that the subscription offers.
I’ve been an Amazon Prime member since May 2009 and have never once thought about cancelling.
Although very different from Amazon Prime, we are both members of various airline and hotel rewards programs. Each of us has had status with Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Delta, United, and Southwest at various times in the last decade thanks to a mix of credit cards and usage. Those experiences have been fantastic. We regularly receive upgrades, rewards, and superlative service.
Our experiences with higher end hotels is one of the big reasons why we repeatedly emphasize that Disney is surprisingly bad hotelier. As compared to premium or luxury chained-brand hotels, Disney offers minimal attention to detail and little concern for customer satisfaction. Despite its reputation and price points, Disney is not a great hospitality company.
We also have gone through a number of credit cards that, in their own way, are similar to a loyalty membership program.
Two of our favorite cards are Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum. Both offer a wealth of perks and benefits beyond just reward points, including airport lounge access, statement credits, free activities, extended warranties, and exceptional customer support.
All of this is mentioned because any or all of these could provide the blueprint for what “Disney Prime” evolves into. With its vast media footprint, Disney could offer something very similar to Amazon Prime. With its parks & resorts business, Disney could do something similar to hoteliers or airlines. Disney could also roll all of this into a credit card with something above and beyond the current Chase products.
It could be a hybrid of the above, with Disney+ serving as the foundation and other benefits flowing from that streaming service into other facets of the company’s media empire, parks & resorts, and beyond.
Fans of Walt Disney World have long questioned why there was no rewards program.
There were no free nights or room upgrades for loyal guests. About the best thing repeat visitors could hope for was a bounceback offer, and those have been mostly gone for the last couple of years. Beyond that, regulars might find themselves targeted for a timeshare sales pitch, but that’s about it.
I want to be excited about “Disney Prime.” As someone who spends a ridiculous amount each year at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, I’d love for the company to throw me a bone every once in a while–or at least pretend my patronage is valued.
We spend more at Walt Disney World and Disneyland each year than at all other travel companies combined and have nothing to show for it. (Well, aside from the memories…and frequent sunburn…and regrets from the Italy booth. But you know what I mean.) Despite spending less with them, all other hospitality companies are far more gracious and eager for our spending. That makes sense–rewarding loyal customers just makes sense, and is good business.
While I’d love this Disney Prime membership offering to be a bona fide travel loyalty program, I’m highly skeptical.
For one thing, there’s no precedent for Disney actually valuing long-term fans. (Look no further than this week’s other WSJ article for evidence to the contrary.) Right now, Disney wants first-timers and other more favorable guest demographics.
For another, if the company were going to launch a meaningful hospitality loyalty program, they’d do so at a time when hotel occupancy was low and they were eager to regain the trust of alienated fans. Disney’s hotel business is currently performing strongly–there’s simply no need to offer benefits to incentivize more stays. Just like there’s no need to discount to the same extent as in the past.
We’ll give you the same spiel here as we do each time Walt Disney World releases a subpar discount–when Disney offers
discounts loyalty rewards, it’s out of necessity, not corporate benevolence. Disney is an extremely savvy business—they maximize profits to the greatest degree economically feasible. Discounts Membership perks will be offered out of necessity, not because the company is your friend and wants to do something nice for you.
With that said, it is possible that there’s prescience here. Perhaps Disney is evaluating the macroeconomic environment, knowing that pent-up demand is fizzling out and a recession might be on the horizon. In such a scenario, Disney might want a path forward after doing so much goodwill and brand damage over the course of the last several years. This would be incredibly savvy–an absolutely masterful move.
I’m also skeptical of this. In recent years, Disney has been much more reactionary than visionary. This isn’t a humble company that’s thinking several steps ahead and preparing for negative potentialities. It’s one with a “no one can touch us” ethos that largely does not believe it has competitors. The attitude towards fans has been that we need them–not the other way around. It’s thus hard to fathom this “Disney Prime” initiative being anything truly beneficial to parks & resorts diehards. At least, not in the near-term.
More likely, this is something that’ll continue down the road of ‘Disney as a service’ with more digital media bundled under the direct-to-consumer umbrella. As someone who doesn’t really consume Disney’s other media products, I’m not really sure what this entails. Maybe comics, books, apps, music, and games? Perhaps they’ll introduce more ‘seamless integration’ between consumer products and the direct-to-consumer businesses?
Whatever it ends up being, I doubt the primary impetus will be rewarding loyal customers or nourishing fans. My guess is that it’ll primarily be about improving corporate synergies, increasing per consumer spending, and reducing friction in the flywheel. (Insert other corporate buzzwords as you see fit.)
Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but in addition to not having the need to incentivize repeat resort guests, I don’t think the contemporary Walt Disney Company has the vision, ambition, or organization to create a membership program even remotely on par with Amazon or any of the other companies mentioned.
Don’t get me wrong–unlike many fans, I don’t think synergy is a dirty word. (To the contrary, it’s something Walt Disney himself laid out back in 1957.) Moreover, when it comes to brand management, creative content, and intellectual property stewardship, Disney is unrivaled. No company can match what Disney does in that regard. They’re more sophisticated on this front than ever, and Disney will probably be the big winner of the streaming war. I just don’t see Disney as a tech or hospitality company, which is probably what it would take for “Disney Prime” to deliver in a meaningful way (for me).
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What do you think of this proposed “Disney Prime” membership program? Think the company will actually launch it, or is simply “exploring” the idea as one of many ways to maximize revenue and consumer spending? If it does come to fruition, do you think it’ll actually benefit loyal Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans, or will the main/sole beneficiary be the company? Thoughts on our assessment of the various elements of a potential Disney Prime program? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!
I don’t believe Disney will offer any kind of meaningful discounts for the parks or resort stays. Disney is having no problem getting people into the parks. The problem Disney is facing is that the parks are a very small part of Disney’s business, and Disney doesn’t seem interested in expanding this part of their business. Operating a theme park comes with huge fixed costs and operational and logistical challenges. Instead Disney is aiming to increase spending on streaming and merchandise, which costs them little to nothing for each additional customer. I only see my family spending much less, not more, on Disney in the future.
Disney has done this repeatedly before: hopefully it will be like one of the ones that was beneficial for a lot of people (Magic Kingdom Club, Disney Movie Club with discount codes) rather than one that was not (Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Movie Club without discount codes). I personally wouldn’t mind them putting the extra benefits from an AP (and Tables in Wonderland) into a separate package; for decades (!) Disney fans on the internet suggested “one person in a party should look into an AP for the benefits” but I could never make the numbers add up for WDW. Like Amazon Prime, it’s going to be more beneficial for people who are into at least one of the included streaming services; Prime Video and the basic version of Amazon Music are valuable to me *and* can be quantified through separate sales.
Tom, I’ve seen that “Walt Disney invented synergy” chart several times in management texts but I’ve never seen it in the fidelity you have in the linked-through picture. Do you know where you got it from? (I’m going to kick myself if I’ve had it in a Disney book for years!)
That was exactly my first thought — “This sounds like the old Magic Kingdom Club!!” Oh man.. I used to get some sweet resort discounts with MKC… We could stay Value for sometimes $59/nt and Moderate was $89 or $99 tops. That was a hot minute ago, lol. /cry/
I think that Disney needs its own version of the Bonvoy program. Scrap DVC and instead have guests earn loyalty points by staying at Disney resorts. They should offer an elite status that gives guests priority check in, free breakfast, and similar benefits.
Oh sure scrap my $15,000 investment that I still have years left to use my prepaid vacations with
Dumbest thing I ever heard!or are you going to reimburse me? Asking for a friend
No, I meant for Disney to scrap DVC for a loyalty program. Good point though.
I wonder DVC might be for WDW what the DL AP program never was: frequent visitors who on average spend *more* per visit than regular guests. (It probably would have to be if you count lodging; even discounted Deluxe level accommodations cost more on average than WDW average lodging, which is lowered by all of the Value and cheaper Moderate units.)
Mimi, is the dumbest thing scrapping a $15,000 program, or that you bought into that $15,000 program for “prepaid vacations” in the first place (a program, mind you, that locks you into paying tens of thousands more of ancillary costs over the course of the contract)? Asking for a friend, likely the same friend as yours 😉
Tom, you want to take this question since he called you me and every other DVC member dumb
Here is what I meant:
Guests who stay at Disney often shouldn’t have to be locked into a timeshare program in order to enjoy benefits. They should be able to use their Disney card to earn points which gives them elite status, therefore granting them Bonvoy style benefits such as early check in, free breakfast, and a welcome benefit. I think this “Disney Prime” should offer this.
P.S. I never even USED the word dumb
While I’d like to hope for better, it’s likely a data grab at heart and not a rewards program. Disney doesn’t reward customers and fans. Disney does grab info and loves its analytics. From the humble in park questionnaire – ‘Excuse me, do you have a minute?’ – to the endless targeted emails once we sign up for any Disney product, Disney loves its consumer data. It’s all about the numbers. Its a Disney rewards Disney program. Not a fan rewards program.
Yep. Its kind of like all the ads to sell you solar. Constantly saying that we “may” qualify to get it free because of tax rebates. HA! No one ends up getting it for free. We don’t even get it HALF paid for. They just tell you that in the ads so you’ll let them come to your house to try and sell you a solar system.
A paid membership on top of the current insanity to most likely get a worse experience than an average trip 10 years ago. This is just too funny……………
Yeah for the love of God, see la later.
This has to be a joke. I predict a colossal failure.
No trust in Disney to please it’s public anymore. I am a stockholder but would buy more only if I am getting pleasure from the company.
Back in the day I was a member of the MKC Gold card memebership program. ..so not an unheard concept. It came with perks I cant remember anymore but I really enjoyed it!
There was talk on the DVC boards a couple months ago about ‘Diamond Memberships’. Rumor was direct members would pay a fee to receive a package of extra perks and discounts. Right now direct members are paying $55 each for ToTWL tables, as a perk lol. Tables in Wonderland was a paid membership to dining discounts.
Count me in if I can pay $100/yr to get a dollar off a $7 pretzel, a neat cardboard art, and perks like a room discount.
As you’ve said in so many other words, evaluating the macroeconomic environment, knowing that pent-up demand is fizzling out and a recession might be on the horizon requires a thoughtful long term vision and commitment. Something that the current leadership doesn’t seem remotely interested in, sacrificing customer satisfaction and park management over all else. If Chapeks strengths are in the product department, he is failing customers in that area as well. Significant price increases coupled with less quality and design features. So throw together a prime type membership and bring the costs of these (ugly) goods back to where they should be. For a membership fee of course.
Whoa you never usually this pessimistic from the jump. They have been canvassing DVC members about a paid perks system. I wonder if it’s related? Let’s walk this through from a positive side. It could include free expedited shipping on Shop Disney, priority booking of hotels, priority dining reservations, member lounge at MCO etc. I could go on & on but maybe just maybe there’s an eager little Junior Executive out there who dreams of ascending the latter at the mother ship by actually creating win, win scenarios for bottom lines and guests. Ah well a man can dream! Walt created that diagram knowing emerged consumers treated like special guests would continue to spend. I hate the term of Walt rolling in his grave. (Actually it would be rolling in his cryo freezer) Walt just new how to make sure you had a big smile & Starry eyes while you opened your wallet!
P.S. I sure hope your CPA helps turn some of the Disney Dollars spent into a deduction reward points.
Just another DESPERATE $$ grab by the ouse-COUNT ME AND MINE OUT!!
I think the thing to remember here is that the target audience for the article isn’t the average Disney parks guest. It’s geared towards investors (or potential investors) who have seen the stock price slide close to 40% over the last year in an effort to reassure them that the company (read Chapek) is “on top of things” and has a plan to “innovate” and therefore isn’t just the bean counter he’s commonly perceived to be.
An annual fee type of program is offered by many companies (Amazon, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc.) in part because of the recurring revenue stream it offers, and as long as there is some perceived “value”, it’s something the members usually put on a recurring payment and don’t think about again (unless there’s a big price hike-hello Netflix).
“Disney might want a path forward after doing so much goodwill and brand damage over the course of the last several years.”
Problem with this statement is that they don’t in any way recognize/acknowledge or care about this loss of goodwill.
My thought on this “Disney Prime”, and I stated on another site, is The House Always Wins.
No upside here.
They already have this. It’s called DVC members who sunk a boat load of money into taking Disney vacations for 40 years!!
That Mouse’s paw is continually reaching out for more of my money yet providing less value
I’m skeptical that they will offer something sufficiently desirable and different from competing services and providers. Disney is bound by the cachet of its name and IP, and its desirability rises and falls with that. I used to be all about getting more Disney, but lately, it just doesn’t hit me the way it used to. It feels less magical. During my first trip to WDW, I really felt like they knew their consumer. They found ways to plus the experience that were unexpected and welcomed. Now, I’m not sure who the target customer is. My daughter thinks its adults, not necessarily families, and, to me, the pricing supports that. I’ve never visited many of our national parks. I’m thinking 2023 could be the year.
The National Geographic channel (full disclosure part of Disney+) has an excellent net series on national parks. Check it out!
Up until the day they anounced that they were going to charge a daily parking fee at the resorts I was a huge Disney fan. Even while living in Minnesota we were able to drive to Disney twice a year . . .three times if a new park was opening. Back in the day you could pay to belong to the magic kingdom club. As a member you had discounts for room, tickets even special event. Anyone remember the Christmas dinner show held at the contemporary resort!? Those were the good ol days. Now when I vacation I go to Universal Studios.
“By creating a membership program, the company’s goal would be keeping consumers in the Disney ecosystem longer, which would likely be achieved by offering more value for money. This would in turn get people to spend more on the company’s products and services.“
They used to have something very similar to this it was called…an Annual Pass
Count me out!