I’ve seen the future of payments and personalization and it is already in place at Disney World. The MagicBand program is relatively new but represents what so many of us have wanted for so long – an end to wallets, cards.
In preparation for my recent vacation to Disney I was aware that the MagicBands were part of the deal with the resort vacation booked, but it wasn’t until our arrival that it became clear what a game changer these relatively simple devices really are. I had used similar wristband technology at Great Wolf Lodge many times over the years, but this implementation was far more immersive and impressive as it would need to be, given the scope of Disney’s properties.
As the smartphone combines functions like telephone, address book, camera and more into a single very useful multi-purpose device, these bracelets provide a single device to simplify your vacation experience by providing a room key, payment device, and ticket and much more all in one device.
My family and I stayed at the Disney Yacht Club resort on a Club Level. On arrival, we were met and led to the Club Level and the concierge provided us MagicBands and instructions. The MagicBands were the colour of our choosing and had the names of each family member on the inside. The concierge explained that the MagicBands would take us directly to the club level by scanning the bracelet in the elevator on a special pad. They also acted as room keys. Everyone in the family can use the bands to gain entry to our room. The bands are also scanned for access to the pool area as that particular themed pool is for the use of resort guests only.
The bands are used for payment as well at all on-site food and shopping locations. I had pre-set a PIN established for payment online prior to check-in – it could be the same for the whole family or unique by family member. Those under 10 cannot purchase with their band – logical as they are most likely to lose them. Pinpad like devices are used at payment counters. For restaurant service, iPod touches with sleds are used to scan the bands and accept pin entry.
The bands also act as your ticket to the resort and are programmed with your dates and ticket permissions. First time entrants scan a fingerprint with their band that is checked on each subsequent entry. They are also used to validate FastPass+ entries - your pre-booked access to popular rides. Visitors pre-book their fastpasses online or on the Disney app, and scan their bands during the approved times for their rides and are provided access to the rides as booked. The Disney staff also see the wearer’s name as my daughter found out when she was greeted by name on her first entry to Magic Kingdom.
My favourite part of the MagicBand was the connection to PhotoPass. As part of our package, I purchased a Memory Maker package which gave you online access and download permissions to all of your photos taken by Disney photographers at the parks. Instead of giving or scanning a photo card, the photographers scanned your MagicBand. The real magic of this element is that photos on the rides are automatically added to your online account. You get on the ride, you see your photo on the screens at the end, and then you can go online and see your photos and download them – no waiting, no extra charge, no silly frame or print. You get relatively high resolution image files of your ride that you can then use as you wish.
As someone who works in retail, I have a tremendous appreciation for how much work all of this represents. Connecting all of these systems and making it appear flawlessly interconnected represents an incredible effort of connecting data, devices, and operational changes to make this happen, and it works very, very smoothly.
In order for solutions like this to work for transactions, they have to be very simple, and they have to work quickly. The MagicBands fulfill this promise by working quickly by holding the wristband against a giant circle with a mickey logo and the entry of a PIN.
In order for solutions like this to be embraced, there must be a benefit to the retailer and to the shopper. The MagicBands fulfill this requirement by providing convenience to the shopper who no longer needs to carry their wallet, worry about various room keys, cards, or barcodes, and just wears a very unobtrusive bracelet. Disney surely gains throughput increases for rides by getting away from having to print and check FastPass tickets, and probably increases spending as shoppers are increasingly separated from the dollars and cents of their transactions by merely tapping a wristband instead of looking at the money they pull from their pocket to pay for souvenirs and snacks. Disney has also effectively enabled full tracking of every purchase, and the entire path that visitors take through their entire stay, allowing them to further
Also, not missing a single opportunity to sell the Magic, Disney now sells all sorts of charms and covers for the bracelets as well.
I can only suggest a few small opportunities for improvement to this impressive system, though I’m certain these improvements are probably on a roadmap somewhere and are yet to be implemented and are not fundamental shifts:
- When paying at a restaurant, on scan of bracelet and entry of pin, there is no opportunity to enter a tip for your server. That functionality is standard on bluetooth pinpads in Canada at restaurants, so should be relatively easy to add. Even if tip was already included in price due to the size of the party, the wait staff still brought a paper receipt to sign. This resulted in being chased down by a server for a signature on at least one occasion. Entering a PIN and signing felt superfluous and even confusing, as entering a PIN and scribbling a signature should amount to the same thing.
- The connection to the web and mobile app was impressive. Free wifi in the park made it easy for international roaming visitors to get good coverage to use the apps to book FastPass+ times. The first time I used the PhotoPass service was on Space Mountain and I was uncertain of whether I had to identify my photo or not. Staff at the ride indicated photos would automatically go to my account. Skeptical, I stayed at the site, pulled up the website for PhotoPass on my mobile and was amazed to see the Space Mountain photos show on the the PhotoPass website within minutes of getting off the ride. While I could see the photos on the website, zooming was awkward as the photopass site was not built for mobile. It would be great if the mobile app had a section for photos as well, and even notification of photo additions.
- Electronic receipts would be a great addition to the mobile app and website. Getting a paper receipt over many days seems wasteful, but keeping a running tally of your resort bill would be helpful.
Retailers, Payments Processors, Credit Card Companies and any party interested in enabling next generation payments should definitely study this environment. As Starbucks did with their mobile payment solution, Disney have looked at their own closed environment and leveraged current technologies and implemented them into their operation to suit their needs. While it’s a closed environment, there are some really intriguing lessons I took from this experience.
- Removing wallets, cards, and even mobile devices from the transaction made it incredibly easy to pay. Holding up your wrist is dead simple, and people caught on quickly. I would use a bracelet to pay everywhere if I could.
- Using the wrist band to buy is like one click purchasing at Amazon. Like the one click, it’s so easy to buy it’s dangerous to your bank balance.
- PINs are important. If Disney can read my wristband and connect my family’s band to mine on a ride, they did it from a distance. If they can read it from a distance, bad guys probably can as well. Disney can control their environment well. That may be more difficult in the real world outside of Disney, but the risk is no more than with cards, really.
- Wearables may be more useful that I initially thought. Using something convenient on your person to pay like a ring or bracelet or watch could be customized to the user and play a very useful role while removing the wallet from your pocket.
- It’s possible to provide an electronic ID used with a wristband. Disney brought up our names and approval to enter parks and save money. Scanning that bracelet can just as easily pop up your image and details for drivers license, age verification, etc. Requiring ID has always been a challenge to removing a wallet completely.
- Keeping the technology out of the way made it so simple to use that the focus of users was completely on their experience and not paying or getting access.
Much like the Starbucks mobile solution, the Disney MagicBand is not a panacea. While it’s not for every situation, it was a fascinating experience to see it work, and to consider how elements of the solution could be used outside of a closed environment. I applaud Disney for taking the initiative of connecting the wristbands to so much functionality and hope to see the learnings drive similar solutions elsewhere!