Disney Tries Mixing Streaming With Shopping

Can shopping make Disney+ even more of a must-have streaming service?

The Walt Disney Company announced on Tuesday that it would begin a “limited test” to determine the viability of selling themed merchandise alongside certain Disney+ shows and films. Until next Tuesday, Disney+ subscribers will have exclusive access to a smattering of new products tied to franchises like “Star Wars,” “Black Panther” and “Frozen.” The items include light saber collectibles ($250 to $400) and themed clothing ($27 to $100) that will go on sale in regular retail stores next week.

The shopping option is available only on Disney+ profiles in the United States that have been verified as belonging to users who are 18 and older. The number of Disney+ subscribers in the United States is not known; Disney has said the service has about 45 million customers in North America.

The effort reflects a business reality: Disney+ has more than 150 million subscribers worldwide, up from about 115 million a year ago, but the days of easy growth are over. Disney must work harder to sign up new subscribers and find ways to keep current ones from canceling, especially with a possible recession on the horizon. Exclusive access to merchandise could be one sweetener. Another could involve perks at Disney theme parks, including early access to new rides. Disney+ subscribers have already received discounts at Walt Disney World hotels in Florida.

Access to a “curated collection of merchandise for the upcoming holiday season” is an experiment “to improve the user experience on Disney+, which includes enhancing the benefits of being a subscriber,” Alisa Bowen, president of Disney+, said in a statement.

Disney is also working on a separate Disney+ enhancement that it calls “next-generation storytelling.” That project aims to use data collected on fans during visits to Disney parks — what rides they ride first or repeatedly, for instance — to curate offerings on their Disney+ accounts.

The shopping feature, at least for the trial run, is comparatively low tech. For the next week, pages on the Disney+ app for certain shows and films — “The Mandalorian,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Lightyear” — will alert eligible users about special access to merchandise. Those interested need to open a “shop” tab and then, using a camera on a separate device, scan a QR code that will take them to a gated area of shopDisney, which is Disney’s primary e-commerce portal.