Disney has built its iconic brand on delivering magical experiences to consumers, from its theme parks to its entertainment business (movies, TV shows) to its licensed merchandise. The fourth division of the business, retail, was more challenged in accomplishing this goal.
In a keynote presentation yesterday at the Shop.org conference in Los Angeles, Michael White, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, discussed how the company is using technology to transform digital commerce. The mission: sell physical products that bring the magic of Disney into customers’ homes.
Retail represents a $56.5 billion business for Disney, and is a critical piece to the company's future. While changing consumer preferences bring challenges, acknowledged White, they also represent an opportunity.
“We want to become true disrupters ourselves,” said White. “Technology is what powers the magic behind Disney. It's part of our DNA, and it's always in service of telling a story.”
Transformative Power of AI
Disney is using artificial intelligence (AI) on its new shopDisney e-commerce site to give customers more personalized experiences. For example, the retailer is categorizing SKUs and site searches via AI and machine learning to produce more relevant product recommendations and site search results. The technology is working with an expanded product assortment, as Disney wants to be able to sell its customers more than its own vertically integrated products.
The new product assortment at shopDisney.com reflects the company’s commitment to creating products tailored for different audience demographics, from kids and families to millennials, and to innovating beyond the traditional and expected. New product categories include trend fashion and accessories, toys, home, collectibles, and parks.
“shopDisney is an entirely new destination, data-driven platform designed to give customers better shopping experiences,” said White.
The use of technology extends to Disney's brick-and-mortar stores as well. The retailer has implemented digital touches in it stores, such as interactive playrooms and screens that live stream the daily parades from its theme parks.
“It's not unusual to see 75 people in-store watching these parades,” said White, noting that the digital in-store experiences are helping to drive foot traffic.
A Recipe for Innovation
The pace of change in retail is staggering, causing resource demands to be at a premium. However, there are three areas that any retailer — no matter size or budget — can focus on to become more innovative, says White: training; diversity; culture.
“Hire the best talent possible and then train them to the role,” recommended White. “We hire generalists.”
Disney offers multiple in-house training programs for its technology hires, including a mentorship program, Tech Talks series, Tech Days, Hack Days, and more. In addition, the retailer has partnered with Google for an engineer training program. Lastly, Disney has started AI and machine learning boot camps designed for senior and midlevel management in nontech divisions.
In terms of diversity, White acknowledged that women and minorities are underrepresented in the tech space, including at Disney. However, the company is taking steps to change that. A Women in Technology group has been launched at Disney, and includes over 400 members. White more progress needs to be made in this area, and Disney is committed to making that a reality.
Lastly, the programs mentioned above and others such as a “Flex Force” group, which spends three months to six months working to help get specific technology projects launched at the company, speak to the culture that Disney wants to create within its business. “A culture of innovation needs to extend across all teams,” White said.
And it doesn't need to cost a lot of money. Each program is scalable at your organization for little or no cost, noted White.