2021 may be remembered for many reasons in the Disney Parks story – from slashed perks to paid-for FastPass, in-your-face money-making schemes have arguably changed fans' relationship with the parks for good... But one of the subtler shifts in Disney management this year may be its attitude toward a subset of Disney Parks guests with something other than making memories in mind. Known to some as "personal shoppers" while decried by others as "scalpers," there's a surprising undercurrent to Disney merchandise that you may never have even noticed...
Now, Disney seems ready to crack down on resellers who buy exclusive merchandise – usually in bulk, and usually with an Annual Passholder discount – then immediately post it to eBay or "personal shopper" sites, often for twice the price they paid or more. Let's take a look at how it works, then we'll ask if you've ever be impacted – for good or bad! – by the "reseller" market.
How It Started
Of course, there's always been a market for Disney Parks merchandise. But especially in the last twenty years, two very important ingredients have come together.
First, there's the rise of the "lifestyler" – a subset of guests with Annual Passes who frequent Walt Disney World and (especially) Disneyland so regularly that for them, Main Street has become the new mall; a place where you meet up with friends after work just to relax. These are the guests who, it's often said, stop by "just for dinner" at EPCOT, or swing by Disneyland on the way home from work to stake out a spot for Fantasmic. (The same spots, mind you, that once-in-a-lifetime guests can't afford to waste a whole evening reserving.)
Especially since about 2005, the rise in "lifestylers" has become a green light for Disney to market merchandise that's limited edition, seasonal, or otherwise exclusive. "Lifestylers" can afford to spend an hour waiting in a 100-person line at a popcorn booth, eager to snag a Nightmare Before Christmas popcorn bucket for $24.99; an exclusive, seasonal pin; a 50th Anniversary mug.
There's really nothing objectively wrong with a subset of Disney Parks fans becoming "lifestylers," nor in Disney creating a merchandise market tailor made for them. Limited, seasonal souvenirs are quite literally designed to be impulse buys that then disappear, so of course folks are excited to jump into whatever Disney decrees the year's cutest color of Mouse Ears, or a light-up popcorn bucket, or a spirit jersey, or a Loungefly backpack. It's all a part of the lifestyle!
The second ingredient here is the problem: the Internet. The early-2000s rise of Ebay meant that if you found an old popcorn bucket in the basement, you could find someone who was willing to pay for it. And for that matter, you could sell a brand new popcorn bucket to someone who wasn't able to make it out to the parks themselves... for a premium. And let's face it – every single person reading this has been at least momentarily tempted by a pin or a MagicBand or a map or a shirt or a mug that you can't personally get to the parks to buy, but can find on Ebay...
How it Works
If that's how it started, then the way it works today is a logical ten-steps down the line. Throughout 2021 – as literal fistfights broke out in the Emporium over limited edition merchandise – Disney Parks fans' Twitters were covered in images of "personal shoppers" lugging wagons of 50th Anniversary merchandise out of the park.
As the first guests checked out of the Emporium on October 1, 2021, visitors captured images of dozens of guests who immediately laid their newly-bought merchandise out on Main Street to get photos for Ebay, uploading the listings the second they owned the item.
@WaltDisneyWorld @DisneyParks What’s the point of even trying to buy merch when you allow this to happen?! This was a Magic Kingdom this morning. People just buy two of EVERYTHING and then resell for higher prices only. #pixiedustshopper #disneyparks #disney #wdw #magickingdom pic.twitter.com/kSlB9mpYsZ— Toni Marie (@twinkiepandaX2) September 20, 2021
It's all possible because even when Disney limits the sale of merchandise (i.e. "two per customer"), any given item has a separate SKU bar code for each size. That means one guest can buy 2 extra small, 2 small, 2 medium, 2 large, and 2 extra large of one t-shirt, or 2 of each pattern of Dooney & Bourke bag, or 2 of each style of MagicBand.
If they bring their spouse and two kids, they are "allowed" to buy 2 of each size or pattern per person – 8 extra small, 8 small, 8 medium, 8 large, and 8 extra large. And because Disney doesn't necessarily track individual transactions per person, they could take the family to another shop and buy 8 more of each size or style, knowing they'll resell every $25 shirt for $40, $50, $60, or more, "earning" hundreds or thousands of dollars in profit to fuel their next buying spree.
Resellers sweep through stores with limited edition merchandise or (as in the photo above) when word of a ride closing strikes, leaving bare shelves for disappointed guests. From pins to Loungefly bags to stuffed animals to mugs, the image of a "scalper" carrying dozens of identical products out of the park in trash bags to sell for profit on Ebay is incredibly frustrating for many fans, and let's face it: it looks pretty slimy. It takes serious gall to walk through the park carrying bags packed with merchandise that you're hoping to resell at inflated prices to desperate fans online.
But some guests argue that they count on those "personal shoppers" to secure the newest bag or band when a trip to the parks isn't possible, and that inflated resale prices are worth it. Disney never really appeared to take action against these resellers, the (maybe cynical) theory being that, hey, Disney makes the same amount of money regardless, so why stop someone who wants 16 of each size? Well...