Mickey Gets Personal Through RFID

Jan 25, 2013

Moving deeper into personal data collection, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is introducing a MagicBand tool for park visitors. Worn on a visitor’s wrist, the rubber bracelets will enable Disney for the first time to track guest behavior in minute detail.

For kids, the "Wow!" factor is that the RFID tracking bracelets may contain extensive details to significantly personalize interaction with Disney employees. Through hidden sensors that read MagicBand data, a Snow White character, for instance, can address a child waiting in a line by her or his name. Without prompting, the character may also wish the child a Happy Birthday.

"We want to take experiences that are more passive and make them as interactive as possible — moving from, ‘Cool, look at that talking bird,’ to ‘Wow, amazing, that bird is talking directly to me,’" said Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, to The New York Times.

The MagicBand will also serve as a guest room key, theme park ticket and provide instant access to pre-selected FastPass+ selections that lets customers skip lines. It also can serve as an optional payment method. The tool is part of Disney’s new MyMagic+ vacation management system that includes an enhanced online reservation system designed to let guests book rides, shows and dining prior to the visit. An accompanying mobile app enables visitors to change event times within the park and also alerts them when their table or ride time may be ready.

While seemingly improving the guest experience, Disney also stands to benefit by being able to track each guest’s movement throughout their parks. As the Times review of the tool stated, "Did you buy a balloon? What attractions did you ride and when? Did you shake Goofy’s hand, but snub Snow White? If you fully use MyMagic+, databases will be watching, allowing Disney to refine its offerings and customize its marketing messages."

Guests don’t have to use the MagicBand system. Those using it can also choose how much information to share. An online menu may ask whether they want a park employee to know their name or their child’s name, as well as whether they want special offerings during their stay. But if guests are using the MagicBand at all, Disney’s sensors will monitor their movements in the park.

Privacy advocates were particularly sensitive to news of such a device that could condition kids to being tracked throughout their lives. Likening the perks to a "class system" seen more with personalized perks at airlines, Laurianne McLaughlin, editor-in-chief at Information Week, lamented that it could alter what had generally been the same park experience for everyone. She wrote, "How crummy will you feel as a parent when your little kid asks you why some kids are jumping the line to meet a princess? Very unmagical."

Will shoppers forsake privacy concerns for a more interactive and personalized shopping experience? Are there lessons for retailers from the Disney experience?

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16 Comments on "Mickey Gets Personal Through RFID"

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Debbie Hauss

Several years ago I was at Disney in Orlando with my pre-teen son, standing in a line (a typical occurrence at Disney)…but we were entertained because we had rented a Mickey Mouse doll that contained a tracking device that played audio pertaining to our specific location within the park. Additionally, walking through the Magic Kingdom, our Micky doll alerted us about wait times for rides and other relevant park information.

The experience with our Mickey doll made our Disney experience more enjoyable. I imagine this RFID tool will do the same. And it’s optional, so if someone is concerned about privacy they don’t have to partake.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Based upon previous research, U.S. consumers are likely to use the bracelets if they want the benefits being offered and European consumers are not likely to use the bracelets at all. Other consumers will have mixed responses. Given that Disney attracts international consumers, this will be an interesting experiment to learn about which consumers are likely to choose to use the bracelets.

Ryan Mathews

They’ll happily make that trade until the system suffers its first widespread and public hack, then all bets are off.

If I were a retailer, I’d wait and see how it plays out for Disney before I even thought about this, remembering at all times there is a huge difference in what people are willing to do in an entertainment environment and what they’ll do when shopping.

Zel Bianco

I am sure there are families that will give up their privacy concerns for the ability to jump long lines and have a more personal experience at Disney theme parks. Disney states that users have the ability of limiting what personal information is shared, but they are still tracked—Big Brother is watching.

Retailers should take note of the results of this Disney technology. Imagine being able to track the path of a shopper in the store—what they browsed vs. what they purchased. This is very valuable information, but will Walmart, Target and shoppers at other retailers want to give up their privacy?

Mark Heckman

To some, this level of information exchange may be too much. But for most, as long as the benefits are clear and frequent, experience tells me that participants won’t mind providing the personal information, nor being tracked throughout their park experience.

As with all efforts to show customized and personalized service, the scenario of those observing others receiving perks and recognition they are not, must be minimized and navigated as it could foster resentment. In fact, it is this “overt recognition of customers” that have kept some very prominent retailers from engaging in special perks and loyalty programs at any level.

To that end, I would recommend to those non-loyalty retailers as well as others to watch and learn from Disney as they develop this program. If history serves as prophecy, the folks at Disney will likely do an excellent job of circumventing the privacy and overt personal treatment issues, while creating yet another reason why they are best of class.

Frank Riso

For most of us, this will be just fine and do exactly as Disney plans. The rest of those who think it is a Big Brother (or Uncle Walt) watching them will protest. I do think Disney will offer choice, but kids will be kids and want the experience for sure. It will not be long before Six Flags does the same….

John Karolefski

The program is creative and clever. Kids being kids will delight in having Snow White come up to them and say, “Happy Birthday” unprompted. It’s magical, right?

For cynical adults, however, this is slouching toward creepy. Will in-store tracking be commonplace in retail over the next three to five years? Yikes!

Cathy Hotka

I’ll predict that this will be a big hit, in part because people want a park experience to be completely different from their normal lives. But do I want a similar experience at CVS, where a sensor can remind me that I’m running low on fish oil capsules? Not so much.

Tom Redd


Face it, as long as your shopping money is safe, then who cares? Meaning, nowadays if you are online shopping or on some social site or book a lot or leave your PC on all night without auto IP address refresh then “someone” out there knows you almost as well as you know yourself.

So, take something like Disney and expand this proper use of personal info, and really enhance the shopper experience in a CONSISTENT MANNER – @ store and @ home/online.

The future is about how well retailers do at treating each shopper like their only shopper.

Great approach by Disney and Walt would be proud.

Tom “Mickey” Redd…yes, I am so old I was at the Opening of WDW in Florida. One of the first 100 people through the gate.

Roger Saunders

Disney is attempting to make their Parks & Resorts a positive, interactive experience for their guests. Bravo! Privacy advocates are going overboard with their concerns. Or, are individuals like Ms. McLaughlin calling out a fairness issue?

Disney is on the correct path to enhance loyalty and sales. The vast majority of consumers are going to be comfortable with a trusted friend like Disney. Those who choose not to make use of the bracelets have the option of opting out. Those who make use of the bracelet earn loyalty rewards of recognition, appreciation, and a friendly smile.

Disney teaches many great lessons about enhancing the Disney experience. We used their model in helping consumers move through serpentine lines in restaurants in a smoother, more orderly and comfortable fashion in our 28 restaurants. Learn from the leaders.

Herb Sorensen
This is not something that is coming, it is something that is already here, and has been for some time. We started RFID tracking of shoppers in stores in 2001, and we certainly weren’t the first ones to track shoppers. What is a continuing advance is the amount of personal data brought to the table, and its interactivity with the “shopper” or user—big data, as it were, assisting in mediating interactions. Given the self-service, unmediated, interactions of the past century, this is a LARGE advance. But given the steps taken in mediating interactions in the past decade, not so large. It doesn’t appear that there is anything terribly new about the technology Disney is using here, just integrating it more into the personal experience. In many ways, the real question is not when will this or that advance occur, but when and how will the world become widely aware that it has occurred. If you find Disney’s development here edgy, consider what PrimeSense, (from the recent CES,) is doing with their next generation Kinnect technology—no personal chips required, you are your own “chip.” PrimeSense has leaped far past the passive RFID chips that Disney is no doubt using, and even… Read more »
Lee Kent

All retailers these days are faced with finding ways to delight and wow their customers. This is just the right wow for a great park experience and people will opt for it for that very reason. Other retailers may not take this kind of approach, yet it should get their juices flowing to think about what might work for them. IMHO

Matt Lincoln
Matt Lincoln
4 years 6 months ago

Most shoppers will forsake privacy concerns for a more interactive, personalized shopping experience. This type of technology will be used as an opt-in service utilizing a smartphone’s WiFi connection in the next couple years. The population that will opt-in to this service will be the incentive seekers within all age groups.

There will also be a cascading effect relating to participation in various age groups. Customers in the younger generation will have a high participation rate which will decrease as the average age of the consumer increases. This type of technology is here to stay and participation and leveraging will continue to expand by both retailers and consumers.

Robert DiPietro

How excited will the marketing and operations folks be to get at this data? How much more efficient could you make the rides and layout of the park if you knew the movement of every customer? This is an Industrial Engineer’s dream, right?

Mass customization at its best—think Tom Cruise in “Minority Report”!

From a merchandising perspective, you could quickly see which displays get the most and the least interaction to optimize sales.

Best thing for retailers is to wait and see.

Mark Price

In general, when consumers have the chance to receive a personalized experience, the behavior data is not as a great a concern. The goal is a “value exchange” where consumers perceive that they are receiving a clear, tangible benefit in exchange for sharing that data. Disney seems to have that equation down, in spades.

Retailers need to be clear about the benefits that come from sharing data, beyond simply more discounts on the products they like. Expedited checkout, access to additional events or features and personalized service in store (like letting consumers know if their size and color preference are in stock) can help to make that equation more clear. I do not know of any retailers currently providing such an experience but I hope to, one day.

Mike Osorio
Mike Osorio
4 years 6 months ago

The tipping point on consumer acceptance of “open” data sharing via such technologies has already been reached. Yes, there will be hacks in the future and companies and individuals will continue to provide and be provided with tools to protect against most hacks.

Disney’s technology is terrific and yes, many retailers will attempt similar systems. Those who authentically connect with and engage their consumers will succeed in gaining broad consumer adoption. Those who are not authentic will fail. The consumer is king and will drive this technology further in the ways that most benefit them.


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