Is It Time for Disney to Limit Theme Park Souvenir Sales?

December 17, 2015, 11:43 AM · It didn't take long for Walt Disney World's new Skipper Canteen restaurant to sell out of its signature souvenir mule mugs. Disney visitors were reporting earlier this week that they couldn't get the mugs when they ordered drinks at the Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant, with cast members telling them that the mugs sold out almost immediately after the restaurant's soft opening.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the mugs are unavailable. (Long-time readers probably can tell where this is going.) You can find plenty of the souvenirs available for sale... on eBay.

This is nothing new for Disney theme park merchandise. It seems that every time makes a new souvenir mug, popcorn bucket, pin, or other tchotchke available for sale, local fans rush to the park and buy out the stock. Then they place the items for sale on eBay at a big markup, to sell to eager Disney fans around the world.

I'm certain that the fans engaging in this have convinced themselves that they are performing a service — helping fans who don't live near the parks to get their hands on fresh new Disney souvenirs. But the practice is generating enormous ill will among Disney fans. Fans in the parks can't get these souvenirs once the scalpers have bought the entire supply, with the only way to get them to pay a huge markup to the scalpers.

And, let's be honest, it's not as if Disney wasn't selling this stuff at a big markup in the first place.

More honesty: A bunch of social media buzz about hard-to-get souvenirs is great publicity for Disney. When a souvenir is hard to get, that makes it all the more desirable to many fans. As demand increases for a limited supply, Disney can raise prices and make even more money. (The price increases can be direct or indirect, such as through the creation of hard-ticket merchandise events where people can get first crack at ordering new merchandise.)

But what's happening now goes beyond that. Fans no longer see sold-out merchandise as must-have souvenirs, but as just more stock for the scalpers. And rather than seeing scalpers as providing a service of convenience, they just see the scalpers as charging a ransom while making true fans' lives more inconvenient by making it impossible to get theme park souvenirs inside the parks.

The situation reminds me of what was happening with dining reservations, when a small group of individuals was snagging ADRs at top restaurants and holding them for sale to other fans. Disney put a stop to that practice, and it can put a stop to the widespread eBay resale of its souvenirs.

That is, if Disney wants to.

All Disney needs to do is to solve this problem is to implement a limit on the number of new souvenirs a fan can buy. The easiest way to do this is to limit the number that can be bought at each purchase, but that's not always effective. Dedicated scalpers will just swing back in line to make multiple purchases until they've got the whole lot. If Disney really wants to crack down and give all their fans a shot, it would require buyers to tap their MagicBand or their ticket for each special item they want to buy — limit one item per admission.

If a family wants to put all their souvenirs on one card to make the purchase, that should be fine. The ticket scan would be to ensure that no one could buy more souvenirs than they have people in their group.

Yes, Disney also could solve the problem by making and stocking a heck of a lot more merchandise, but the problem ultimately isn't that stuff sells out. Hey, having a limited edition or relatively rare item of merchandise is fun, and Disney shouldn't have to expose itself to pre-ordering a warehouse-full of every new item it plans to sell. The problem is a handful of people buying out all of every new item before the larger fan base has an opportunity to make any of them an honest hit. If an item sells out under a one-per-person policy, so be it. It's a hit, and I think most fans would be understanding of that.

Theme park merchandise should make fans happy. It should provide fans with a warm reminder of times visiting the park, subtlety inviting them to return. When merchandise instead makes visitors mad, leaving them frustrated with being a fan, theme parks have themselves a problem.

Replies (11)

December 17, 2015 at 1:24 PM · In September, 2015 I bought a cute poison apple mug/holder from the Disneyland Hotel as a Halloween souvenir. I was there on convention, although a local and regular DLR park visitor. When I returned to the parks later in the month, they were sold out. For a Halloween-themed souvenir, I regretted not buying more since I had a few co-workers ask about them. The take-away for me here is the impulse to buy will pass wether you act upon it or not. Disney is leaving money on the table here - unwisely.
December 17, 2015 at 1:31 PM · As someone who can only visit once every couple of years, I can appreciate the ability to purchase the items I would otherwise be unable to get (though I am not personally someone who does buy these goods).

What I don't understand is why Disney allows the current situation to persist. It not only annoys park guests who find the items unavailable to them, but allows profiteering which surely frustrates those trying to purchase from afar.

Wouldn't the better solution be to limit in-park purchases and make available the items to buy from an Official park online shop - at a reasonable price.

Disney makes the same amount of money, perhaps a little more as they could charge a small surcharge for out-of-park sales. But most importantly it keeps all their fans happy, except a small amount of profiteers who see their somewhat questionable immoral business activities curtailed.

December 17, 2015 at 1:46 PM · These mugs are nothing special. The fans are making things harder for themselves by buying them up. I hardly ever buy anything marked souvenir. They wouldn't sell out so quickly if Disney limited sales to one person per table service. eBay sellers should know there is only a limited chance for these sales. Don't be caught with too much stock.
December 17, 2015 at 2:12 PM · I agree with this entire article. While this doesn't necessarily apply to me, as I'm not huge into merchandise, I can only imagine what it's like for the people who are. Please Disney, take down the scalpers!
December 17, 2015 at 4:12 PM · We were at Disney for Halloween boo to you party, went to purchase an exclusive boo to you magic band to be told they sold out one week before Halloween meaning I could not get one, then I look on eBay and there you find people with more then one for sale, worse still people were selling Halloween night boo to you tickets for as much as 250 dollars each and people were buying them, crazy what people will buy and sell.
December 17, 2015 at 6:05 PM · This is why I don't care for limited releases or limited edition anything anymore. Resellers/ scalpers ruin everything for fans who just want to collect Disneyana. It's just like Star Wars toys or any other classic movie with collectibles/ toys. The resellers go out and wipe places out making it near impossible for us regular collectors to even find souvenirs of things we love at regular prices. Personally I wish Disney would just make a huge surplus effectively making it pointless for scalpers to make a profit from these products. But we know that can't happen. Look at the Back to the Future Pepsi bottles.
December 18, 2015 at 6:06 AM · I'm surprised Disney isn't getting ahead of the ball - Why let somebody on Ebay sell a marked up souvenir, when they could do it themselves from their own site.

Undercut the black market. Place limits on purchases, take the scalper out of the equation, and sell directly to the wanting buyer. Then nobody is doing anybody "a service", and access to the items would be more fair and controllable.

December 18, 2015 at 8:55 AM · I have sometimes found some hidden gems on eBay for a good price. Also, I bet at least half of these scalpers are Disney CMs. Hate the break it to you. They buy them with their employee discount then sell them at normal retail price or slightly under.
I found a Haunted Mansion magic band (unlinked) and phone case for $19 and $18. They retail at $35? and $40. Deal to me!
December 18, 2015 at 10:16 AM · That is an excellent suggestion! There limits in place for specific pin releases, it should apply to other items.

Even Though I live in California, and DLR doesn't have MagicBands, I think your idea regarding the tapping of the band to limit one item per guest is brilliant.

Thank you for writing this article and starting the conversation!

December 19, 2015 at 10:58 AM · The magic band idea would only work if people link their money to their band. I don't trust the magic band enough to use it that way.

What's weird is that this really only applies to certain limited edition items. I've gone to the employee store with a friend who works for the company and saw tons of the exclusive merch that didn't sell in the store for employees at major mark downs. There's no way to guess what will and won't be hugely popular which makes monitoring special items difficult.

December 21, 2015 at 3:12 PM · There's no reason to have to guess what will and won't be popular if you just enforce a limit of one or two of each item per person. There's really no reason why a person would need more than a couple of the same item unless they are planning to resell them.

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