Black Friday Descends over the Disneyland Half Marathon Expoby Lani Teshima, staff writer
"…I had read that merchandise goes quickly so I first went there. It was absolute chaos. It reminded me of stories of crowded supermarkets right before a hurricane where everyone is trying to grab the last gallon of milk."
"…I finally found a cast member at the end of the line which was all the way at the other end of the expo. He was very enthusiastic, telling everyone that 'the line is moving!' but it turned out to take an hour and a half just to get the opportunity to pay."
"…I read and heard stories of people buying armloads of merchandise, obviously with the intent of resale. A quick search of ebay shows 29 Dumbo Double Dare items, many of them pins, offered for well above retail price."
"…We were so frazzled from dealing with all the crowds at packet pickup and the expo we didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the other vendor booths which was a bummer."
"…To say the place was a mob scene on Friday is understatement; long lines, short tempers, confusion, and chaos certainly seemed to be the (dis)order of the day."
After feeling overwhelmed and exhausted from my shopping experience at the official merchandise area at the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon Expo on Friday, August 30, I tweeted an inquiry on Twitter and on our MousePad discussion boards to ask people if they could share their personal experience about the expo. I immediately got several impassioned responses from people who felt equally as frustrated with their experience.
I have a lot of experience with runDisney expos. Since my 2013 goal was to complete every runDisney half marathon, I've already been to four of the expos this year alone. And even the crowded conditions at the Princess Half Marathon expo this past February has nothing on the nightmare that was the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend Expo.
In addition to picking up racing bibs, racing shirts and gear bags, those who attend the expo are also invited to view pilots or new episodes of upcoming ABC TV shows upstairs at the Disneyland Hotel during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. Photo by Lani Teshima.
What People Suspected Might Go Wrong (and did)
What created this nexus of a perfect storm for the expo? Essentially, all 5K, 10K, and Dumbo people were required to go to the expo on Friday. And with the introduction of two brand new events, Disney created an even stronger-than-usual desire for participants to get their hands on official inaugural event merchandise at the expo.
MousePlanet reader Kathryn R. from Canada (who was at the expo for her eighth runDisney half-marathon and fourth consecutive Coast to Coast), said:
"I felt they were unprepared for the crowd. The races had sold out in record time so the enthusiasm was not unforeseeable. Many, many more half-marathoners arrived for Friday this time because they were running on Saturday as well as Sunday, making it more likely that people would be at the expo on Friday instead of spread between Friday and Saturday. And people coming at the opening time is quite foreseeable as they could get that out of the way and enjoy the parks for the rest of the day."
It wasn't difficult for Disney to predict that this was going to cause a major problem.
In addition to a castle, the hallway outside the expo also includes a real Dumbo ride vehicle for Dumbo Double Dare participants to take photos with, like this member of Team All Ears. Photo by Lani Teshima.
Lack of Queue Management
Disney is famous for some of the best queue management in the world. This was not in evidence on Friday for the expo, however. Trouble began before the public could even get into the expo. MousePlanet staff member Adrienne Krock shares her experience:
"We were in the expo line. When people started coming out with their bibs, instead of getting into the expo line, they started trying to merge into the crowd. There were no hard queues—stanchions or barriers to define the lines other than tape on the ground. The bib holders just tried to push into the lines on the tape with nothing to stop them. At one point, a group of about six people with Dumbo bibs started to crash the line, so to speak. Several people in line, including some in our group started to tell them 'Hey, the end of the line is over there.' The people argued with us. Later, we realized that they thought you could not enter the expo without bibs—which was wrong."
Participants who successfully pick up their racing bibs are directed back upstairs to the expo to pick up their racing shirts and gear bags during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. Photo by Lani Teshima.
MousePlanet reader and founder of Team Muscle Makers for Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, Melissa Martin Mayorgas, witnessed the same group of line-cutters, and posted the following on our MousePad discussion board:
"While in line for the merchandise we noticed that they opened the bib pick up area several minutes before they opened the expo/merchandise area. This created a huge problem because after those in the bib pick-up line had their bibs they didn't feel it was necessary to get into another line. They cut right through the rest of us… Cast members had no idea what was going on. They even claimed that they didn't know what they were doing and that they were just doing what runDisney told them to do."
Out of the Pan and into the Expo
Many experienced participants chose to wait in the expo queue first, since official merchandise is known to sell out, and bibs could be picked up all day. When several thousand people have the same idea, you get big crowds. When you combine that with people's strong desire to buy inaugural merchandise, tempers start to flare. Conditions were made worse by lack of communication and confusing directions that changed based on who you spoke to. MousePlanet writer Lorree Tachell found herself in the thick of things:
"runDisney was not ready for the crowds that showed up that early in the morning for the expo and who were that rabid about merchandise. They were vastly understaffed for crowd control in the hours before anything started and it just got worse as the day went on. When we arrived at the expo around 8:50 a.m. there were already several hundred people already in line and by opening there had to be over a thousand waiting.
"There was gross miscommunication regarding exiting the packet pick-up with bibs and moving to picking up shirts (at one point you could skip the expo line and go straight in—we also observed a cast member blocking the open lane out of the expo tunnel and making everyone join the by-then hours long expo line)."
Official Merchandise Area Descends into Chaos
Once inside the expo, confusion appeared to be the rule. People immediately swarmed the official merchandise area in order to buy event merchandise. There were several designs of shirts, jackets, and sweats on hangers, but the inventory were quickly exhausted, and thus started the endless cycle of cast members wheeling hangered shirts onto the merchandise area and racks being picked clean moments afterwards.
Adrienne Krock said:
"Merchandise was gone quickly. The crowd inside the official merchandise area was insane. I was shopping for specific items. Eventually, I found out that if I asked a CM, they would go to the back and look for a specific size and item. I got the items I needed—not everything I wanted, though. I gave up and just wanted to get out of there. So I got in line. It took me over 90 minutes to purchase my items. At one point, a friend saved my spot so I could run to another booth."
Melissa agrees. "Once we were finally in the official merch area of the expo it was like a free for all! People were pushing through the crowds and grabbing anything the could get their hands on. As CMs were bringing more merch out they were being bombarded at the door," she said.
This was also the biggest concern for Kathryn R.:
"My main concern is with the merchandise in the official merchandise area. I was at the expo in line by about an hour before it opened (I was still on Eastern time). I was the first person at my packet pickup window to be served, and then I went straight to the expo and went to the official merch area. It was so crowded you could not see a thing. Due to the crowd that had gone straight to the expo at opening time, the line to pay for merchandise was all the way to the other end of the hall already. People had eight or more hangers over their arms."
Lorree Tachell adds:
"More merchandise should be on the rounders and/or put out in boxes with cast members helping to find the right sizes. The poor cast members were overwhelmed with shoppers literally pulling items out of their hands before they had a chance to restock. The walls around the cash registers were actually being used as a secondary dumping ground/ impromptu shopping areas."
However while the scene was intolerable for many, at least those who arrived early on Friday had a shot at grabbing some merchandise. Those who showed up to the expo on Saturday were mostly out of luck, as most of the merchandise was completely sold out. Jen H. from Huntington Beach, who posts on our MousePad discussion board as *Nala*, noted:
"When we came back to the expo Saturday afternoon, most of the event-specific merchandise was gone. If I had not happened to have Friday off (or was from out of town and didn't arrive early enough), I wouldn't have been able to buy an 'I Did It' shirt for my first half, and as it was I had to stand in line an hour and a half for the privilege."
MousePlanet staff member Jeff Moxley ran into this problem as well. Jeff chose to pick up his racing bib after work on Friday afternoon, and discovered that they were completely sold out of much of the event-specific merchandise. To make matters worse, a cast member refused to remove the one last shirt in his size that was being worn on a mannequin.
Mannequins don official merchandise for during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. By the end of the expo when almost everything was sold out, cast members would not remove the clothes to sell them to pleading customers (we aren't sure why). Photo by Lani Teshima.
At least there were still some shirts left over by Saturday afternoon, but some items sold out within the first hour or two of the expo, including event-specific SweatyBand hair bands, and Dumbo race magnets.
Some people looked at the crowds, and chose to skip the official merchandise area altogether. Kathryn S. said:
"Regarding official merchandise selections, availability, etc., I'm afraid I haven't got a clue. I normally take a cruise through the area where the official race merchandise is sold and pick up two or three souvenir items, but the crowds were unbelievable. After what I had just experienced just getting to the expo, there was no way on God's green earth that I was gonna stand in line for the 1–2 hours I was being told was the wait time just to get into the merchandising area (apparently the fire marshal was still controlling access at that point). The only good part about the feeding frenzy at the Disney merchandise area is that the vendor booths on the other side of the room were relatively uncongested."
Please Take Our Money
One notable issue, for those who managed to find something to buy, was the line to pay for the merchandise. I was relatively quick in picking my merchandise to buy, and looked quickly for the cashier line. When I looked, the queue was still in the process of forming. I kept walking towards the back of the line, which turned out to be close to the far end of the exhibit hall. By the time I got to the cash register, I had been waiting to give them my money for well over an hour.
Melissa Martin Mayorgas adds:
"The lines were anywhere from an hour to three hours long to check out. By 1:00 p.m. they had closed the official merch area down for fire code. Again, no magic here, folks. On the flip side, I was able to get in and out of Raw Threads and Team Sparkle in a matter of minutes. The rest of the vendors were very efficient."
Ali Vincent, the first female winner of "The Biggest Loser" TV show and host of "Live Big With Ali Vincent" on the Live Well Network, speaks to the audience at the main stage about running the half-marathon. Photo by Lani Teshima.
Adrienne Krock noted one particularly frustrating scene—she noticed that cast members had directed the cashier queue in front of the stage area while Olympian and official runDisney running coach Jeff Galloway was in the middle of giving his talk. She said:
"Possibly the worst part was the line winding through the stage area. Jeff Galloway was on stage talking. People were sitting in the seats trying to listen. And the merchandise line wound throughout the area. The line moved from the north side of the stage area, down to the stage, then turned along the front of the stage. At the mid-point, we walked up the center aisle, then turned around and back down the center aisle. We finished crossing in front of the stage and then back up the south side of the stage area and up the stairs towards the lobby.
"By this point, we had been in line for an hour. Some people were talking in line. This frustrated the people trying to listen to Mr. Galloway, and one man snapped at the line something about being rude and could they be quiet he was trying to listen. I felt bad for everyone. It was just a bad situation. People in line were bored. People sitting were trying to listen. Mr. Galloway was competing with the noise and having to face people who weren't paying attention to him. I can't believe that the line in the stage area was Disney's only option."
The Expo Leaves Runners Drained and Exhausted
With frustration and long lines, many participants found themselves spending more time than usual at the expo—including people who wanted to rest as much as possible with 19.3 miles of weekend running looming before them in the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge. Melissa said:
"By the time we had bought one shirt each, and a magnet and whatever, some shot blox, a sparkle skirt, and oh yeah, the gaudy shoes, we had spent two and a half hours in the bowels of the Disneyland Hotel (at least it was shady, unlike the pre-opening queue out in the UV)."
In fact, Melissa's general feeling after surviving the expo is a similar theme we heard repeatedly. She said, "It was quite overwhelming and I do not wish to experience that again any time soon." Adrienne Krock shared her sentiments:
"Later I went back to get our bibs and shirts. We wanted to look around the Expo but it was still a bit crowded and I was just done with everything. The frustration and overwhelmingness made me not want to deal with it anymore. I really felt like I wasted all my expo time in line to pay for merchandise. The biggest gotcha? The one shirt I bought for myself? Didn't fit me. Fortunately, my friend bought it from me so I didn't have to try to return it. I didn't see how quickly all the sizes sold out but I heard they did. There were shirts I wished I had gotten but it wasn't worth it."
Could There Be a Solution?
What can be done to solve all of the problems people encountered at the expo? People have proposed several different ideas.
Solution #1: Start the expo on Thursday
Opening the expo on Thursday for an additional day will alleviated the worst of the congestion on Friday. If Disney follows a similar pattern as other runDisney events, next year's Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend may pull the 5K forward to Friday. Although this creates a different problem for local parents (many of whom will not pull their children out of school for the event), spreading bib pick-up to two days for the 5K, 10K, and Dumbo participants cannot hurt.
Solution #2: Offer pre-event mail-order purchases for official registrants
Disney knows the exact names and mailing addresses of every person participating in all the events for the weekend, and already offers a pre-event order form for ordering event-specific Dooney & Bourke purses. In fact, Disney has the contact information several months in advance because the popular events sold out in a matter of days earlier this year.
Disney already offers the Random Selection Process (RSP) method for people attending special events in the parks. While a runDisney event with 15,000 participants is bigger than a Haunted Mansion event with 2,000 participants, the difference is just a matter of scale, and the method should work regardless of participant size.
Jen H. agrees, and said, "The obvious solution is for runDisney to offer online pre-purchase of race items. I would also like to see them limit the quantity of official race items that one person can buy, and maybe even to limit "I Did It" and event-specific items to registered participants."
Lorree Tachell believes Disney really needs to listen to its customers, and offers as an example the problems the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon series encountered after the bad press it received from its 2012 Las Vegas half-marathon. She said:
"Merchandise pre-sell via the Web is a great idea. Maybe runDisney believes that mob hysteria is needed to sell runDisney merchandise but I’m betting they would actually gain more sales if they went [with a pre-sell] route. There are a lot of people who did not get the Dumbo Double Dare and/or Coast-to-Coast merchandise and who had such a bad experience at the expo they won’t return next year or in the future.
"runDisney apparently believes at this point they are above word-of-mouth and that experiences like the expo won’t impact their registration or merchandise sales numbers. They may be right, but sometime down the road these participant experiences will come back to bite them. See what happened to Competitor when Rock n Roll Las Vegas 2012 was such a train-wreck."
Solution #3: Restrict access to official merchandise to those with their own racing bibs
One problem people mentioned repeatedly was non-participants buying armloads of clothes to resell online. This doesn't benefit bona fide participants, nor does it benefit Disney, since Disney makes no money from sales on places like eBay.
To avoid the worst of the "K-Mart blue-light special" hording behavior, Disney might want to consider restricting the sale of official merchandise during the first day of the expo to just those with their own racing bibs.
As an alternative, they could offer a satellite official merchandise area in the unused floor space by the racing bib pick-up area.
Solution #4: Limit the number of each item a person can buy
Restricting how many of each item a person can buy (of the same design, in the same size) can go a long way to discouraging nonparticipants from hording the merchandise for the purpose of reselling them online.
Solution #5: Change the way merchandise is sold on-site
The system this year's expo used seemed so inefficient. Shirts would be carefully hung on hangers in the back room. The hangers would be hung on a rolling rack. A cast member would roll the rack into the merchandise floor to go hang the shirts on the appropriate racks. As the cast member would try to start hanging the hangers, shoppers would start taking the hangers off the rolling racks.
As shoppers picked what they wanted to buy, they all went to stand in the purchasing queue. With no cast members coming by to pick up hangers, the hours-long queue held thousands of idle hangers, which were unavailable to use to hang new merchandise up.
Signs direct participants to different areas to pick up different sizes of shirts. This leads to some very long lines for the more popular sizes (such as large and XL), with almost no line for XS and smalls. What the signs do not say, is that these are suggestions; anyone can walk up to any part of the counter and volunteers pull the appropriate sized shirt. Since this is not clearly communicated, many racers wait in long lines during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. Photo by Lani Teshima.
Disney should consider changing the way merchandise is sold. All designs should have display versions (clearly marked as display only). A separate section should be available for shoppers to try on apparel to make sure they can select the right size (since this did not exist at all). Once shoppers decide what they want, they should mark off an order form, which they then get in line and hand off to a cast member standing at a counter. Similar to the way the runners picked up their event shirts, these cast members could take the order form and fulfill the request by pulling shirts out from boxes (separated by size).
This method would avoid the cumbersome and slow method of hanging each item, and would create a fast assembly line.
To make this even faster, shoppers could pay for what they ask for on the order form in advance, so they don't have to stand in line to pay after getting their merchandise. Cast members could even be equipped with handheld devices that could run credit card sales transactions, adding dozens more cash registers to the area.
Solution #6: Sell runDisney event merchandise in World of Disney
Is there anything preventing Disney from selling event merchandise at the World of Disney? Or is there anything preventing the World of Disney from selling non-dated, generic runDisney merchandise during runDisney weekends? It would seem that people love buying runDisney gear, period, and would buy more merchandise if they were only available. Kathryn R. said:
"I do think there is a missed opportunity to sell more generic runDisney merch including what they sell online. We had lots of inquiries from new runDisney participants as to where we got our runDisney T shirts and pin lanyards (picked up at the WDW expo). Even for myself, I need another tech shirt like I need a hole in the head, but I always buy more. I would love a long sleeve tech shirt or running shell with the 'every mile is magic' slogan, for instance. I was peeved that Jeff Galloway had great socks with big 'hidden Mickey' icons on the cuffs and nobody was selling them. They were perfect matches for the New Balance shoes."
For the first time in recent memory, the racing bib pick-up area did not have an area for people to verify their ChronoTrack B-tag timing chips. This turned out to be an issue with a number of MousePad members, including those who discovered a wrong person's name on the tag.
I personally wished the verification station was available, since Disney never reported that I finished the 10K. I had to wait two hours for the official results to get posted online, but had the verification station been available, I would have been able to quickly check to make sure my timing chip was still valid when I went back to Runner Relations to find out if they could find out what was going on (as it turned out, they just told me wait for the official results).
Lorree Tachell said:
"No [ChronoTrack] B-tag [timing chip] verification was a huge miss for runDisney. Sure, participants should check to verify that the tag matches the bib, but many of the athletes were in their first-time events. runDisney markets themselves to those first-timers. Even having a single verification station onsite (which is pretty standard at all races including previous runDisney events) could have alleviated the B-tag mix-ups and allowed for early on-site resolution instead of panicked runners the morning of (or the afternoon of for those who didn’t find their results and wondered what happened)."
The only information regarding the ChronoTrack B-tag timing strips was a sign downstairs in the bib pick-up area during the 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. In past years, a station was set up in the bib pick-up area where people could physically verify that their timing chips were assigned to them and working correctly. Photo by Lani Teshima.
Deborah S. from Anaheim had a problem with parking. She said:
"My biggest beef was with the parking… or lack thereof. The race instructions typically do not include driving and parking directions for the expo, so those of us who live locally are left to our own devices to figure out our options. I've run the half-marathon every year thus far, so I pretty much had the system down, but this year all bets were off. I arrived Friday midday to find that the Disneyland Hotel and Downtown Disney lots were full to capacity and I got the total runaround (so to speak) from staff regarding where to find alternate parking. Suffice it to say those directing traffic on the street clearly were not in communication with the parking lot attendants, nor were the attendants at the various lots in communication with each other.
"After being misdirected twice, I wound up at an offsite garage behind the convention center ($12 per vehicle to park), had to take a bus that dropped off at the Disneyland entrance on Harbor, and then had to hike close to a mile back to the expo. It's probably no exaggeration to say that by the time I finally got to the hotel, I was wearing The Unhappiest Face on Earth (heh)."
A Few Bright Spots
Even with all the headaches, there were some bright spots:
- Customers were still offered discounts with their annual passports and Disney Visa cards
- Shoppers could go to any Disney store (including World of Disney) to return unwanted runDisney merchandise
- Dumbo Double Dare participants didn't have to wait in three different lines to get their official event shirts; the three shirts were bundled into sacks so runners only had to wait in one line.
- The event shirt distribution area was relatively orderly, although lines for the more popular sizes were very long.
Dumbo Double Dare participants are directed towards the far end for T-shirt pick-up. Unlike the individual events where shirts are stacked in tall piles, Dumbo participants get a plastic bag pre-filled with three shirts (the 10K, half-marathon, and Dumbo), which saves people time from having to wait in multiple lines. Photo by Lani Teshima.
Finally, the biggest bright spot is that next year's 10K, half-marathon, and Dumbo challenge will offer gender-specific shirts. For a lot of women, the unisex Champion shirts are ill-fitting and too long, and it's one of the reasons women shop for women-specific shirts during the expo. With women's styles available for 2014 runDisney events, many women may be happy with their official event shirts and feel less compelled to buy extra shirts (or be less disappointed if the shirts they want at the official merchandise area are sold out).
Future Merchandise Requests
MouseAdventure crew member Teresa Whitmore asks for small event shirts and mini medals that would fit the dress-up Duffy doll or a Build-A-Bear doll.
A simple request for way more inventory of what's available; having items sell out after half a day during the first day of the expo is poor planning.
More 10K merchandise; there was only a single cotton T-shirt for the 10K this year.
Mouse ears for events; the only ear hats we saw was one for the Kids' Races.