Shopper Experience

Disney+ and Netflix test new ways to buy what you stream

Disney+ is launching an ecommerce store, while Netflix will have shops in Walmart.

Netflix sign on a building at sunset.
Photo by Venti Views on Unsplash

Commerce has long been discussed as an avenue for streaming platforms to access additional revenue, add value to their subscriptions and create deeper engagement with viewers.

Now, platforms are beginning to open stores, bringing what these ideas look like in practice into view.

This week, Disney+ launched a new ecommerce activation to buy merchandise straight out of its shows, while Netflix is teaming with Walmart for new in-store activations.

Here’s a closer look at these developments, and more:

Disney+ tests shopping

Disney+ launched a test this week that provides subscribers the option to buy merchandise from the shows and movies featured on the streaming platform.

Called shopDisney, the feature offers access to the ecommerce store through a QR code that is available on detail pages of specific titles on the Disney+ platform, or by accessing a website.

The merchandise, which is advertised as being exclusive to the store, corresponds with recent releases from Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney Animation Studios and Pixar. The initial line of products ranges from toys like the Doctor Strange Cloak and the DarkSaber from the Mandalorian to a puzzle from the latest film in the Black Panther series.

“Special access to this curated collection of merchandise for the upcoming holiday season is the latest example of the many ways we experiment with how to improve the user experience on Disney+, which includes enhancing the benefits of being a subscriber,” said Alisa Bowen, President of Disney+, in a statement.

While the ecommerce tie-in with streaming is new, this fits in many ways with how the house of Mouse has long operated. Part of the Disney magic has long been the opportunity to own merchandise from its franchises. That’s why The Disney Store became a fixture at malls. Disney already has the supply chains in place to offer these goods.

What's new here lies in the link with the streaming platform. This adds convenience and exclusivity. Making the ecommerce shop available on the same platform where one watches these shows shortens the time and effort required between a person thinking about buying something, and making the purchase. The idea is that it's easier than ever to buy something straight out of the show.

In turn, making limited edition products available only to subscribers adds to the urgency to make a purchase before supplies run out. To the point of Bowen’s statement, this access to what are effectively product drops in turn reinforces the value of a Disney+ subscription beyond being able to watch content.

The ecommerce store is being characterized as a limited test run that offers a way to get an early opportunity to grab gifts for the holiday season. However, it could be just the first way that Disney+ expands. In what turned out to be an accurate report on the subject of this commerce launch right down to the Darksaber detail, the Wall Street Journal relayed earlier this fall that Disney has discussed making commerce part of a more wide-ranging membership program that offers access to perks and rewards from across its properties, including its theme parks. Such a program could also provide access to valuable data to improve the experience for users. From the Wall Street Journal report:

A membership program could help Disney learn more about its customers’ behavior by collecting data about which shows they watched, trips they took and merchandise they purchased. Ultimately, Disney’s goal is to harness that data to make recommendations based on customers’ preferences, some of the people said.

For example, a fan of Star Wars rides at its theme park would get recommended related programming on Disney+.

Already it's possible to see how data on purchases from the ecommerce store will help get that wheel turning. But in the context presented above, commerce is just one part of the equation, just as it is in the wider Disney universe.

It reinforces how digital membership programs are increasingly seeking to add similar elements. The WSJ said the proposed program at Disney has internally attracted comparisons to Amazon Prime, where commerce and content already sit side-by-side at massive scale. Walmart+ started from that company's strength in shopping, and is now adding streaming by offering Paramount+ as a perk. Given Disney’s track record of execution in the area of creating experiences that people love, it’s worth keeping a particular eye on how that company's program evolves, with the shopping feature at the leading edge.

Netflix goes to Walmart

A Stranger Things LiteBrite. (Courtesy photo)

In a digital-goes-physical move, Walmart is expanding a digital storefront featuring Netflix merchandise into physical stores.

The Netflix Hub will be at more than 2,400 Walmart stores. Products include music, apparel, collectibles, games and seasonal items from Netflix-produced shows such as “Stranger Things,” “Squid Game and “The Witcher.” The Hub will also sell a streaming gift card for Netflix, and a concession kit with curated snack items.

This marks a wider expansion of Netflix’s move to spread merchandise to stores, which followed digital shops through its own properties and Walmart previously. Netflix previously held pop-ups, with the most recent location opening in Los Angeles. As we wrote then:

With the store, Netflix is taking characters and worlds that are seen on the screen, and bringing them to the physical world. The fact that fans can own a piece of popular shows only deepens the connection with the viewing experience it offers.

With Walmart, it is taking away some of the exclusivity of these popups. However, the tradeoff is that the merchandise will be more widely available, generating brand awareness in Walmart stores around the country. It comes at a time when Netflix is seeking to add subscribers through a lower-cost subscription tier, so positioning in the ultimate mass market retailer that is Walmart will help to reach that audience.

What is the role of ads?

Speaking of that lower cost subscription tier, these announcements come on the same week that Netflix rolled out its advertising offering. Disney+ won’t be far behind with its own ad-supported plan on Dec. 8.

To be sure, CTV is a whole topic of its own, and there's not a direct tie-in with these on-platform commerce moves and ads at this time. For now, this streaming ad space is being offered for other brands to promote themselves through these platforms, similar to linear TV. Netflix, for instance, has an initial brand lineup that includes L'Oreal, LVMH, Target and Heinz.

But watch this space to see if the experience becomes more shoppable. Walmart and Roku are testing a format that makes it possible to buy a product directly from an ad using a remote. With streaming services bringing advertising capabilities into the fold, the convergence of content and commerce feels like a springboard for more innovation to come.

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