One of the defining challenges for the themed entertainment industry is finding new and compelling ways to entice customers to get out of their homes, off the Internet and into theme parks and family entertainment centers.
Great new rides and shows are just part of the solution. Theme parks make money on much more than tickets, so they also need to find ways to convince visitors who are becoming more and more conditioned to shop online to spend money in their actual, physical stores.
Disney has filed a couple of patent applications for new technology that it hopes will help save brick-and-mortar retail in the digital age. Its applications for an Interactive Retail Venue and a Retail Venue Providing Automated Customer Assistance describe a shopping experience that blurs the line with entertainment productions, supported by automated assistance to find and sell merchandise.
"If traditional retail outlets are in fact to survive and prosper, they must offer customers a shopping experience including features that cannot be readily replicated in an online environment," Disney's patent applications say. "Thus, there is a need for a commercial solution enabling a brick-and-mortar retail venue to provide an interactive experience sufficiently attractive to motivate potential shoppers to do their browsing and purchasing in-store."
"By creating a retail venue providing an immersive and interactive customer experience that blends shopping with entertainment, the present application discloses such a commercial solution."
The TL;DR of Disney's solution is to transform a store display into a type of 4D theater, with haptic sensors and actuators along with video, lighting and other sensory effects that can engage shoppers' sense of sight, hearing, and touch to not just entertain them, but to create a sense of physical and emotional engagement with a product.
The second patent application describes an automated — and far more advanced — version of the old WorldKey Kiosks that Epcot visitors used to get dining reservations back when the park debuted.
"For example, [a] computing platform may use camera system to generate an image, such as an avatar for example, corresponding to [a] customer. The avatar or other image of [the] customer may be used to determine the gender of [the] customer, and to estimate the age and/or physical dimensions, such as clothing size, of [the] customer. That information may be transmitted to [a] venue coordination server via [a] communication network, and may be stored in [a] customer database for use in generating one or more product recommendations for [the] customer."
Ultimately, the two applications together seek to offer an in-store experience that combines the personalization of online shopping with physical entertainment that can be delivered only in person, making in-store shopping a lot more fun and possibly even more effective than shopping online. (Remember, when you buy in person, there's no wait for shipping, either.)
While it seems obvious that Disney could use this technology for its in-park retail locations and other Disney Stores around the world, there's no reason why Disney could not also license this technology to other retailers, too.
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