The retail offering at UK theme parks never ceases to amaze me. I am always looking for a decent souvenir of my visit but usually find a huge array of plastic junk and silly toys that have little or nothing to do with the park. Whilst guests don’t visit theme parks to go shopping most end up wandering around the stores at some point but you rarely see people leaving the parks with bags full of merchandise. It is a very different story at the Disney parks overseas where almost everyone leaves weighed down under the enormity of their purchases. With a great deal of money to be made why don’t the British parks make more of an effort?
Disney naturally have an advantage with the strength of their brand. They have characters loved by everyone which doubtless helps to boosts sales but their retailing success is about more than that. Disney souvenirs sell because of the quality, relevance and practicality of their goods. The guests want to buy Disney things not generic cheap imports and it really helps if there is a purpose to the merchandise. There are only so many soft toys and gimmicks people will buy but things they can use or collect are a different story. I love things like the towels, kitchenware, pet bowels and bags. They are things I can use with a Disney twist and I never feel I am buying items for the sake of it. Looking at the queues for the tills it appears I am not alone.
There is nothing like collectibles for generating repeat sales and both Disney and Universal score highly here with a magnificent range of pin badges. I am not given to collecting but I do like to have a pin badge of each ride I have experienced and in the UK they are few and far between. Pins can be big business but the UK offering is restricted to a few uninteresting little pieces which pale into insignificance next to the fabulous and ornate examples from the American giants.
I have seen some great merchandise in theme parks but none of it has been in the UK. Europa Park have some lovely shops selling a variety of goods from ride souvenirs to quality home wares. The merchandise might not all be strictly relevant to the park but it is good stuff that people might actually want to buy and on my most recent visit I was fascinated to see that they were selling parts of a ride! The offcuts of the wood used to build Wodan were for sale and each piece came with a description of where on the ride it came from. Cedar Point offer a fabulous range of T shirts and hoodies featuring their top rides and my partner bought a magnificent Batman hoodie at Six Flags Magic Mountain!
I think Christmas is another great retail opportunity missed in the UK. Many theme parks overseas have Christmas themed shops which are always full of customers. The decorations and Christmas cards are attractive things which people can use in the future and are inexpensive to buy. It is no big surprise then that people are buying them in huge numbers. In comparison, on my last visit to the Thorpe Park Mega Store, I walked around unimpressed, bought nothing and found myself to be the only person in the shop. Not a pin badge, Christmas decoration or attractive piece of home ware in sight.
UK Theme parks need to learn that people do not go to a park to buy a rubber snake or cheap plastic trophy. They want to take home something which is relevant to the park and/or things they can collect or use at home. I can only begin to imagine how much money is walking into the parks and straight back out again at the end of each day as people fail to find anything worthwhile to spend it on.
Article by Sally Stacey