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What is Disney doing to its customer life cycle?

123mart123

Active Member
Original Poster
Long time lurker here (10+ years) and love the info and insight. What a wealth of knowledge some of the veterans bring.

I finally felt compelled to post a perspective and question.

I am stunned by the Disney parks business model over the last 15+ years. The Decline in value has been stunning and accelerating. The causes seem obvious, but Disney continues to accelerate down this path. I’m clearly not alone in in this view (anecdotally, this website and all of my family / friends that are/were huge Disney fans)

I’ve begun to wonder what the lag time is for their actions. WHEN will customers leave the business. The 5 stage customer life cycle leads me to believe that their are 5-10 years (??) between actions and consequence to the parks…sort of like car shoppers? The negative experience has to erode (4) retention and (5) advocacy. But if Disney thinks it’s much shorter than that, they will be far Down the wrong path and in a huge hole before they really feel it (Not unlike the domestic auto brands)..

I have been loyal, patient and and strong advocate Of Disney Parks. But I no longer advocate (at all) and we are actively shifting vacation patterns away from Disney (retention). The last few years and this one in particular have finally crossed the line. No need to go into extra detail, but the short list of observations…
- pricing increases seem far higher than inflation
- from “free” to “fee” changes all over the place…nickel and diming on a grand scale
- constant cuts of the “little things” like shows, entertainment
- investment in digital overlays (DME, fp+, etc) instead of rides and attractions
- investment in tent pole rides in mediocre lands with limited capacity or reliability
- direction of EPCOT is a mess…world showcase lagoon barges are hideous
- hard to believe the huge Hollywood studios investment yielded a smaller park with few rides
- deluxe hotel pricing is bizarro-world and seem to be a feeder to their DVC sales…which I think is ultimately killing their gross operating margins.
I could go on…admittedly some of this is personal preference…

So when do customers react en mass? What is the timespan for that positive/negative feedback loop (retention, advocacy)?
 

Queen of the WDW Scene

Well-Known Member
In the Parks
No
If Disney did something that tipped me towards too negative I'd up and stop going immediately.
That has not happened and I'm not sure if/when it will.
Probably not the answer you were looking for but the answer is not as simple as a "at this point mass amount of customers will stop going".
Its a very individualized and subjective answer.
 

Sandurz

Well-Known Member
I think if/when the day of reckoning comes they can right the ship pretty quickly if they want to. Generally speaking, attractions that have been completed and opened in the last few years have been crowd pleasers and have net positive favorability, the negativity is not from steel and concrete in the ground alone, it's totally linked to their strategy and pricing.

I've said this here before but I'll restate it. Disney's new strategies are just baffling. We're in a time when it's en vogue for companies and industries that typically have a classically boring, long unchanged customer experience to laser focus on customer satisfaction, and go above and beyond their expectations to give a holistically better product from top to bottom. And yet, Disney is abandoning that very thing, a thing they already did for decades, to go after a transparently " you, pay me" mentality when people are more sensitive to it than ever. Real galaxy brain stuff.

People are more fickle than ever: every month there's some new tourist destination that blew up because of social media that no one ever heard of 6 weeks before. The same thing can happen in reverse to Disney. The public is super narrative driven, so directly giving them these narratives of bad value and bad product is beyond foolish.
 
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Brian

Well-Known Member
Disney has an incredibly loyal fan base, only a portion of which is a registered user on this site. There are people who live their life to go to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, wake up at 3am eastern for episodes premieres on Disney+, and wait in line at their local Disney Store for hours for the newest merch (RIP Disney Store :().

Disney got hit with a series of negative consume insight surveys in the early - mid 2010s, in which guests reported that the parks were simply too crowded to have a pleasant experience. This was largely due to the economic recovery that followed "the great recession." Folks finally had "vacation money" again, and many chose to visit the parks. The company's strategy became twofold: spread out attendance over the year so that there is no overly quiet (early January, most of September) or overly busy (Christmas - New Year, Spring Break, etc) time, in order to create a more enjoyable guest experience while avoiding unnecessary labor costs due to low attendance. Part two was to make more money with fewer guests.

The first piece of the strategy can be seen on the guest side of things by looking at things like date-based ticketing, fairly good discounts on rooms/packages at forecasted quieter times of the year, and special events starting earlier and earlier (like Food and Wine). As a side note, I will say that the reservation system is a dream come true for executives, who now have virtually precise attendance figures that they can then have labor planning teams use to avoid unnecessary labor costs.

The second is quite evident in the price increases. The company has shifted it's focus to catering to the affluent guest, because they are largely willing to spend more without thinking about it. This also serves the interest of reducing crowding, by essentially pricing the lower-middle class family who saves up for many years to afford the once in a lifetime Disney vacation, while filling the park with fewer guests than before but who spend enough to close the gap, and then some. It sounds harsh, I know, but going back to the goal of reducing crowding, if you were an executive and you had to choose who to fill the park with, who would it be: the affluent guests who will buy things like after hours events, fireworks cruises, VIP tours, etc, or the once in a lifetime Disney vacation guests who will not be back again and who will not buy anything beyond park admission and maybe a quick service meal each day? Again, it sounds harsh, but this is a business and they have done themselves well by adopting this strategy. Pre-pandemic, Disney enjoyed many record quarters, much of which was thanks to the parks business.

To your question about when do customers start to react: well, I firmly believe that Disney will always have it's aforementioned core contingent, and the affluent guests they continue to target are generally not the kind of people who would bat an eye at dropping extra money if it meant a more personalized/enjoyable experience. They will also be less prone to backlash from price increases. It's the guests who fall in the middle between the target "affluent" (upper-middle/upper) class and the once in a lifetime, save up for years guests who will have to make the choice: are they willing to spend far more than they ever have to have the same experience? The answer will largely depend on what level "pixie duster" you are.

On a personal level, even as a former CM, I can say that the value proposition is simply not there for me.
 
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StarshipDisney

Well-Known Member
Here! Here!!

This was so well said. Thank you.

I am already reacting (retention as you called it) by making my next trip a split stay at Disney and Universal...something that (to me anyway) was unthinkable a few years ago. I loved staying at the Contemporary and thus in the middle of the magic. But at over $1200/night now (room, tickets, MM), I am finally stepping down. Yes, I could afford it, but I just don't see it as worth it. No hotel is worth that kind of $$$. This is also heavily exacerbated by taking away all the perks!

So yes my spending at Disney will go way down and partially move to Universal.
 

Disstevefan1

Well-Known Member
Long time lurker here (10+ years) and love the info and insight. What a wealth of knowledge some of the veterans bring.

I finally felt compelled to post a perspective and question.

I am stunned by the Disney parks business model over the last 15+ years. The Decline in value has been stunning and accelerating. The causes seem obvious, but Disney continues to accelerate down this path. I’m clearly not alone in in this view (anecdotally, this website and all of my family / friends that are/were huge Disney fans)

I’ve begun to wonder what the lag time is for their actions. WHEN will customers leave the business. The 5 stage customer life cycle leads me to believe that their are 5-10 years (??) between actions and consequence to the parks…sort of like car shoppers? The negative experience has to erode (4) retention and (5) advocacy. But if Disney thinks it’s much shorter than that, they will be far Down the wrong path and in a huge hole before they really feel it (Not unlike the domestic auto brands)..

I have been loyal, patient and and strong advocate Of Disney Parks. But I no longer advocate (at all) and we are actively shifting vacation patterns away from Disney (retention). The last few years and this one in particular have finally crossed the line. No need to go into extra detail, but the short list of observations…
- pricing increases seem far higher than inflation
- from “free” to “fee” changes all over the place…nickel and diming on a grand scale
- constant cuts of the “little things” like shows, entertainment
- investment in digital overlays (DME, fp+, etc) instead of rides and attractions
- investment in tent pole rides in mediocre lands with limited capacity or reliability
- direction of EPCOT is a mess…world showcase lagoon barges are hideous
- hard to believe the huge Hollywood studios investment yielded a smaller park with few rides
- deluxe hotel pricing is bizarro-world and seem to be a feeder to their DVC sales…which I think is ultimately killing their gross operating margins.
I could go on…admittedly some of this is personal preference…

So when do customers react en mass? What is the timespan for that positive/negative feedback loop (retention, advocacy)?
If there is any type of negative reaction from Disney’s customers, all the new and recent customers negate those.

For the new and recent guest, they don’t know what they lost, many have no idea how anything worked in the past or works now. They find out when they Get to WDW. Disney has their money already. Disney wins.

There are a lot of older folks remember the good old days and bring family to WDW today to (try) to recapture that. They get to WDW and realize WDW has changed. Disney has their money already. Disney wins.

Then there is the Disney fan rationalist. For every change WDW makes they can rationalize it away and still show up and with that, more money, more money, more money they give to Disney.

I also think the pandemic worked in Disney’s favor, they were able to make cuts in the name of COVID, raise prices in the name of COVID, create park pass reservations, cancel and change the APs, implement Genie + and Lighting Lane much sooner, all in the name of COVID.

The pandemic also created the pent up demand and “revenge vacations” to WDW no matter the offerings.

In any event, Disney is quick to react and change things at will when the fiscal spreadsheet demand so.

TWDC and it’s theme parks are invincible.
 

Brian

Well-Known Member
I also think the pandemic worked in Disney’s favor, they were able to make cuts in the name of COVID, raise prices in the name of COVID, create park pass reservations, cancel and change the APs, implement Genie + and Lighting Lane much sooner, all in the name of COVID.
Well said, especially regarding LL/Genie+.

We have all been talking about paid FP for the better part of a decade, and so has the company. The struggle had always been: how do they take something that was free one day and make it paid the next, especially with something as well-liked and valuable as FastPass? COVID gave them the ultimate "out." FP was gone for over a year, and then they roll it back out with a different name and a price tag attached. They still got some well-deserved backlash, but it wasn't anything near what would have been if it was rolled out while FP was still actively available.
 

jpinkc

Well-Known Member
I agree its very subjective to answer this. People used to feel for Car brands like people do with Disney. I agree that its to my tipping point for going and certainly staying on Property is NOT worth it without some incentives for what they charge (i have had a better sleep at Motel 6 than at All Star Sports). I think what this year has been about a lot was people whose trips got canceled by Covid (this is from a Disney Travel Agent I know) and Revenge Travel as they call it. I know some older folks who fell right into that as they normally what we call Snowbird. Leave in their RV as soon as it looks like snow and come home in the spring. Most of the ones I know did not do that last year and this year a few I know ditched the RV for the year and went on a week or 2 vacation someplace. I think we might not know til after the Holidays and into the spring of next year what the true status of the Travel industry is. Let alone if WDW can keep the hotels full if Covid is still hanging on. All the loss of Perks for onsight I think will hurt them some, but for true die hards it might not matter. I think the turning point of a Disney vacation is getting closer (I have a ton of marriott points so that helps me) if not upon us as the skyrocketing prices for on property stays and airfare, are pricing more and more people out of the Disney Bubble.
 

roj2323

Well-Known Member
I can tell you I let my annual pass lapse due to covid but I've decided to not get a new one primarily due to the changes they have made in the past year requiring you to reserve a slot for going to the parks and attractions. The thing is as a local I like the idea of deciding to go to the parks for a few hours on a whim and in most cases I don't decide I'm going until an hour before I get there. Furthermore I usually don't decide which park I'm going to until I'm exiting I-4 onto WDW property. None of this is possible with their new reservation system. Furthermore, even though Rise of the resistance opened 4 months before covid, I've never experienced the attraction as that's a reservation only attraction as well with all reservations being dispersed well before I ever arrive (after 3pm always).


Being forced to Pre-plan my visit is the one thing I have always hated about Disney. People literally spend months preplanning their visit so much so that the guests are often extremely stressed out trying to "keep to their schedule". All of this pre planning limits the fun and magic that Disney can be and that's just not worth investing in.
 

MichWolv

Born Modest. Wore Off.
Premium Member
I can tell you I let my annual pass lapse due to covid but I've decided to not get a new one primarily due to the changes they have made in the past year requiring you to reserve a slot for going to the parks and attractions. The thing is as a local I like the idea of deciding to go to the parks for a few hours on a whim and in most cases I don't decide I'm going until an hour before I get there. Furthermore I usually don't decide which park I'm going to until I'm exiting I-4 onto WDW property. None of this is possible with their new reservation system. Furthermore, even though Rise of the resistance opened 4 months before covid, I've never experienced the attraction as that's a reservation only attraction as well with all reservations being dispersed well before I ever arrive (after 3pm always).


Being forced to Pre-plan my visit is the one thing I have always hated about Disney. People literally spend months preplanning their visit so much so that the guests are often extremely stressed out trying to "keep to their schedule". All of this pre planning limits the fun and magic that Disney can be and that's just not worth investing in.
If that's the case, the new changes coming with Genie swing things more in your favor. No more advanced FP+ necessary. Just day of Genie+ if you want.
 

MichWolv

Born Modest. Wore Off.
Premium Member
I am stunned by the Disney parks business model over the last 15+ years. The Decline in value has been stunning and accelerating. The causes seem obvious, but Disney continues to accelerate down this path. I’m clearly not alone in in this view (anecdotally, this website and all of my family / friends that are/were huge Disney fans)
While many here share these views, we're a small drop in the bucket. The fact is that despite Disney going down this path for many years, the parks (excluding effects of COVID) are more profitable than ever. While the armchair C-suite execs around here assert that the time is coming that Disney will pay for its shortsightedness, I don't think the actual C-suite execs are that dumb. They have a good idea of the breaking point, and continue treading towards it, slowly, incrementally, and continue studying it.

My guess is that they know they're approaching the imaginary line at which price increases and experience cuts might no longer be positive. But they also know that if/when they hit that point, they can pivot rather quickly, and many who have left will come back. I even suspect they have several key pivoting moves in mind.
 

ppete1975

Well-Known Member
Long time lurker here (10+ years) and love the info and insight. What a wealth of knowledge some of the veterans bring.

I finally felt compelled to post a perspective and question.

I am stunned by the Disney parks business model over the last 15+ years. The Decline in value has been stunning and accelerating. The causes seem obvious, but Disney continues to accelerate down this path. I’m clearly not alone in in this view (anecdotally, this website and all of my family / friends that are/were huge Disney fans)

I’ve begun to wonder what the lag time is for their actions. WHEN will customers leave the business. The 5 stage customer life cycle leads me to believe that their are 5-10 years (??) between actions and consequence to the parks…sort of like car shoppers? The negative experience has to erode (4) retention and (5) advocacy. But if Disney thinks it’s much shorter than that, they will be far Down the wrong path and in a huge hole before they really feel it (Not unlike the domestic auto brands)..

I have been loyal, patient and and strong advocate Of Disney Parks. But I no longer advocate (at all) and we are actively shifting vacation patterns away from Disney (retention). The last few years and this one in particular have finally crossed the line. No need to go into extra detail, but the short list of observations…
- pricing increases seem far higher than inflation
- from “free” to “fee” changes all over the place…nickel and diming on a grand scale
- constant cuts of the “little things” like shows, entertainment
- investment in digital overlays (DME, fp+, etc) instead of rides and attractions
- investment in tent pole rides in mediocre lands with limited capacity or reliability
- direction of EPCOT is a mess…world showcase lagoon barges are hideous
- hard to believe the huge Hollywood studios investment yielded a smaller park with few rides
- deluxe hotel pricing is bizarro-world and seem to be a feeder to their DVC sales…which I think is ultimately killing their gross operating margins.
I could go on…admittedly some of this is personal preference…

So when do customers react en mass? What is the timespan for that positive/negative feedback loop (retention, advocacy)?
The problem with that logic unfortunately, is that for every previous customer they lose there are 5 to take their place. Those 5 this is the Disney they know. Right now its boom time for first timers and that line has no sign of slowing down. And with price increases and other things even if attendance decreases (it wont) that just makes more people wanting to come and prob makes it more comfortable. Long term you will have middle class and lower going every 4-7 years upper middle and above every 1-2 years and residents fill in the rest.
 

erasure fan1

Well-Known Member
I think if/when the day of reckoning comes they can right the ship pretty quickly if they want to.
That is exactly how Disney feels. They know they can push this till the doors fall off. The mindset is simple really. Disney pushes the charge more, give less strategy as absolutely far as possible. If they do hit the day of reckoning, they know they have enough fan nostalgia to back off a bit, throw in a free cupcake and 1 lightning lane, and BAM! The fans are running back in droves. No matter what, its a win for them.
 

Hitchens

Member
Predictions from Captain Obvious:

MOST families visiting Disney's American parks from 500+ miles a way might splurge on the $15 to $20 per CUSTOMER (no longer "guests" if we're being honest) per day for Lightning Lane
to be able to ride SOME most of the most popular attractions with a shorter wait,
SO
the so-called Lightning Lane be a mess on the many crowded days, and in order to then really make Lightning Lane substantially faster, Disney "will have no choice but to raise the price of Lightning Lane."

And if the Rise of the Resistance,
Avatar Flight of Passage
& Tron
fastpass options (they won't be Lightning Lane options & will have the longest lines) are raised to $30,
there will be a damaging backlash.
("One hundred and twenty bucks so my family of 4 could ride a two-minute coaster once!")
This will be on top of the $400 extra a family of 4 a family would pay for Lightning Lane for 5 days in the parks if L.L. will increase to $20 a day, as it reportedly will cost from the start at Disneyland.

Sorry to say, but sadly it's true: Robert Paycheck is a short-term thinking antiWalt.
 
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GuyFawkes

New Member
Simple as this. I have had AP's for Universal for maybe 4 years now because I think Universal is a better value to me.

My prediction is when a recession comes along or some sort economic crash happens. Disney will have problems with their high prices and public thoughts about Disney being an elite resort for rich people. It's coming, it always does. I happened to have children the right age when the real estate crash happened. I took advantage of it because the crash did not hurt me in any way. I will be back when Disney is up against a wall and needs my business as in prices will drop over all.

Why I say over all is because that is what Disney is doing right now. Get as much money as possible from everyone who walks into the parks. First up is get them to stay at a Disney hotel. Eat Disney food, etc. etc. Longer stays. This business mode is working for now but everything that goes up, comes down. Disney will get hammered when it comes down. I could be wrong maybe this is a new economic world where the US government pumps trillions of dollars into the economy forever. That's not going to happen, spending like a dunking sailor does not work in the long run.

The other possibility is maybe enough rich people can fill Disney parks without the need for peasants?
 

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