By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> is testing the first major redesign of its retail stores in seven years, adding interactive experiences and live streams of theme park parades to lure consumers tempted by online shopping.
The world's largest entertainment company also is launching a new shopping website on Tuesday, executives said in interviews. It is another response to the decline in visits to brick-and-mortar stores across the retail industry.
Sales of toys, clothing and other merchandise are one way Disney generates revenue from its popular characters and inspires loyalty among fans. Disney's physical stores are an important part of those sales.
"We knew we needed to elevate and improve the experiences that we have both in stores and online as retail is changing,”
Paul Gainer, executive vice president of Disney retail, said in an interview at one of the two California locations testing the new approach.
Disney has grown and shrunk its network of retail stores over the years, and at one point sold off its U.S. and Canadian locations. It bought the stores back in 2008 and now operates 340 retail stores around the world.
In the newly designed stores, kids can battle Darth Vader on a giant video screen, or interact with other characters from the Disney, Pixar, "Star Wars" and Marvel franchises. Store employees can tailor experiences for children celebrating a birthday, a good report card or another milestone. The same screen will show live feeds of parades at Disney theme parks.
The revamped stores feature a smaller collection of products, with employees and signs directing shoppers to a much broader array for all ages on Disney's website. The online selection at shopDisney.com includes new products for adults from luxury brands such as Coach Inc <COH.N> and Ethan Allen Interiors <ETH.N>, and more of the exclusive items sold at Disney's theme parks.
The stores and website have been designed to highlight Disney's four major franchises. The idea is being tested at the two California stores as well as in Nagoya, Japan, and Shanghai. Locations in Munich and Miami will be redesigned later this year.
The retail spaces also have a new look that includes lower fixtures that make them feel more open.
Disney's retail stores are part of its consumer products and interactive division, which generated $1.4 billion in operating income in the nine months through July 1, or 11 percent of the company's total. Disney does not provide details on store revenue.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Stephen Coates)