It happens so infrequently in the Disney universe that I did a double-take,
blinked, checked again, and still didn't believe my eyes, but there it was:
something for nothing. Starting several weeks ago, a new breed of gift card
appeared on the shelves in several Disney shops (though it's more visible in
the Emporium than in Mouse Gear): a gift card that you purchase for face
value (always $50) which includes a free Disney pin.
The cards and the pins are themed around
"celebrations" to match the current park promotion.
Maybe that doesn't grab you at first blush. Certainly over time I've
heard passers-by who thought about it, then re-considered, apparently
wondering if they could even spend $50. This is an absolute no-brainer to
me, though, especially if you should buy these cards at the start of your
vacation. Wouldn't you think a family of four might hit $1,000 in expenses
for a week, considering all the food they need to buy? That's only $35 per
person, per day, and if you're eating even one sit down meal per day, you'll
easily hit that target. And if there's money left over, I've got to believe
your average family buys a souvenir or three on a trip.
Well, that $1,000 could be purchased with twenty gift cards (each for
$50), which would give you twenty brand-new Disney pins to keep or to trade
away. That's perhaps TWO lanyards' worth of pins, handed to you for free. Or
think of it this way: each pin is probably worth about $10 (if you were to
buy pins at rack value), so that's $150 worth of merchandise. Free. For
money you were going to spend anyway. It's like a 15% discount, just out of
In our case, we started buying and saving up these cards for a specific
use: the renewal of our annual passes. It seemed impossible that we could
use these cards (and keep those pins) for something we were all but certain
to buy anyway, so I purchased one card as an experiment to use around the
parks, and also showed it to a ticket-seller at Hollywood Studios to confirm
that we could use those. Yes, she nodded, and I began purchasing cards
whenever I could find them.
I didn't want to purchase $1,000 at once. It might lead to awkward
questions at the cash register, and while I wasn't planning anything
illegal, somehow it seemed safer to just buy "one of each kind" on each
visit (there are five varieties, so this was $250 each time). I only made it
to $750 before I needed to renew our annual passes, so I couldn't pay for
the whole thing, but I got fifteen free Disney pins. I think I'm so enthused
because it's so uncommon to get truly "free" things from Disney.
One assumes these cards – which are listed and advertised as "limited
edition" and "for a limited time" – exist because they want people to spend
more money. The Vegas effect takes over if you're using "house currency," be
it casino chips or Disney Dollars or pre-purchased gift cards; psychologists
have pretty much proven that our weakling brains spend more when the money
is already a "sunk cost."
The cards do not appear to have expiration dates on them. For the
skittish and the worried, a class of consumers that certainly includes me,
there is comfort in the form of a receipt for each card activation. Buy five
cards at once and get six receipts: one for each card, and one for your VISA
bill. If you lose the gift cards, you can use the info on the individualized
receipts to cancel the balances (and get replacement cards, if you act
before the nefarious card-taker uses up the money).
Want a free pile of Disney pins that you
can keep, collect, or trade away? Act soon!
Disney probably isn't losing much on the deal. Even though the rack pins
sell for $9 or $13, these freebies probably only cost pennies (maybe a
dollar?) to make, and if the $50 can encourage an extra $5 worth of
purchases, Disney comes out ahead. Besides, all of this may work (on some
visitors) as subtle indoctrination to pin trading. If you get a free pin or
two from the gift cards, they are hoping, you'll jump headfirst into regular
pin trading, and purchase the lanyard and a few other rack-price pins.
Disney wins that way, too.
In short, I think we are looking at that rarest of promotions: a real and
honest win-win situation, where both sides benefit. The notion of a win-win
is hackneyed and thrown into countless PowerPoint presentations, but in this
case, it's hard to be cynical. I suppose it's possible that if this program
became truly wide-spread, visitors would start to expect free pins and then
balk at paying rack rate for the other ones, and Disney wouldn't want to see
those sales crimped.
Likewise, I could imagine a world where Disney banned such cards from use
to buy tickets and renew annual passes (as restrictive and un-fan-friendly
as that may seem), so I made sure to use my gift cards for pass renewal
BEFORE writing this article. Check with me in a year to see if this program
is still around, and if it's still good for tickets and annual passes.
Speaking of Las Vegas and casino chips, pin trading has borrowed another
page from their playbook, in the form of less obvious purchase prices. The
pins no longer display purchase prices directly on them; instead, they sport
a color. You have to look around the pin display until you find the key to
decipher how much you pin costs, based on that color code.
If you have to look up your color, are you
ready to buy? Some of them get pretty expensive!
By making it a two-step process, Disney is exploring that hallowed space
between first-sighting of a desired object and discovering its cost. If that
discovery comes immediately after the sighting, customers are more likely to
react logically to the price/value ratio. If there is a gap between sighting
and price discovery, (some) customers are more likely to react emotionally
(not logically) to the price and value, and a subset of those customers will
have the desire for the object settle more deeply in their psyche, and will
purchase the item. The extra seconds it takes to look up the price may be
enough to allow "buyer's mentality" to set in.
Think of it this way: if you have 1,000 customers browse a pin display
with prices listed on the back, let's say 213 of them buy pins. But if you
have 1,000 different customers browse a similar display with the pins only
identified by color codes, perhaps 217 of the customers will buy pins.
There's just something about having invested time and emotional investment
(by trying to find out the price) which makes (some of) us more likely to
buy. The difference of four additional sales may not seem like much, but
multiply it by ten stores in each park, or forty stores total, and you've
got 160 additional sales (probably about $1,600). Every day. Besides, those
numbers were imaginary and invented out of whole cloth; Disney's margin may
be well above simply four additional sales per thousand visitors.
I can even see a perk for the Cast Members on the ground: when prices go
up, they don't have to re-label the hundreds of pins on the shelf; they just
change the color key around, and the job is done!
One thing you can't help but notice if you live in Central Florida is the
weather. And the summer heat and humidity argue against carting around your
pin lanyard on a daily basis if you live here (tourists may be more willing
to tolerate it, since the vacation will soon enough be over).
So in my family, we recently hit upon a solution I'm sure many of you
already do: we carry around a "pocket pin" that isn't really on display, but
is meant to be traded away in case we discover something we really want
while touring the parks. I collect Disney Cruise Line pins (not in a serious
way; I wouldn't pay for them on eBay but will snap up anything I see in the
parks) and have been burned before by leaving my pins in the car, but seeing
a DCL pin in the park that day. So I try not to leave the car without at
least a pocket pin.
In fact, my wife and son also take their own pocket pins. It's happened
more than once that we've needed to "borrow" temporarily, if one person
discovers more than single pin he is currently collecting. Family power to
I once observed a Cast Member reach into her pocket to offer us
additional pins for trade because my son was trying to unload something
unique (presumably rare) and couldn't find anything interesting on the CM's
lanyard. She pulled out a handful of stuff I've NEVER seen before
(confirming my belief that the majority of the stuff in circulation is the
"boring" stuff) and specified which ones my child could have, and which he
couldn't. This was her personal collection, not the CM-lanyard, so we were
OK with her rules (however, I bet park management would frown on it). It was
a win-win; she got what she wanted and my child received a different unique
pin he was happy with.
But it pointed out to me that Cast Members themselves often have pocket
pins. And I wondered if that meant some of them snapped up rare pins when
Guests traded them. If I were a CM, I'd be tempted to carry a personal
pocket pin, and trade it with my lanyard when a Guest gave me something
unique. But this kind of activity only further removes unique pins out of
My child was given this special, free,
"magical moment" pin by a caring Cast Member.
Pin Trading: My Knowledge Base
With apologies to the long-standing readership, I'd like to dedicate a
bit of space at the end of these pin trading articles to a list of things
I've learned about the process over time. I'll update the list each time.
There may be a person or two reading who is new to pin trading, and who
could benefit from hearing my list of things that were not intuitive (at
least not to me) when starting out for the first time.
Start on eBay rather than in the parks. While you might pay $9
to $13 per pin in the parks, you can get them for $1 (or perhaps $2)
each if you buy in bulk from users on eBay. Arrive at the parks with
your pile already in place; now you just have to trade your way to
greatness throughout the vacation!
Purchase locking backs for your pins. The default metal clasp of
yesteryear is beyond useless, and even the rubber Mickey Ears on
purchased Disney pins is not adequate to protect against a week's worth
of movement and friction. Buy "locking backs" at the pin trading kiosks
(they have mixed reviews from users) or head again to eBay to buy a
different kind of locking backs (or buy them from Condor Creations:
at this link). We've been delighted with them.
Choose a specialty to collect early. If you plan to keep pins
(rather than consider all of them ripe for trading), then identify early
what you want to collect. All Figment pins? Just Kilimanjaro Safari?
Only Donald Duck? If your subject matter is too broad, there are
hundreds of pins available, which may result in frustration. (Hint: Tink
may run into the thousands). Even highly specialized topics have dozens
Green lanyards are for kids only. Cast Members wearing
green-colored lanyards are instructed to trade only with kids, not
adults. Is this stuff written down in a rule book somewhere? Nice for
the kids to feel special, though.
Pins facing the wrong way on a CM's lanyard are "mystery pins".
They will only agree to show you the pin after you've done a trade, so
you are trading while completely blind to what you'll get. This bit of
mystery is nirvana to kids, and frankly, it's engaging even for adults.
Even if you hate the pin, you can trade it away to the next CM, no
questions asked, so there's nothing particularly at stake.
Pins with Hidden Mickeys on them were never for sale. Small
Mickey-shaped designs on a pin are a giveaway that these pins are
CM-only pins; they've never been on the rack and are only available by
trading. A masterstroke.
Pin Boards appear and disappear on schedule. At places like the
shop in the Contemporary Resort, or the cart next to Pin Central in
Epcot (as well as probably lots more I don't know about), they have
corkboard displays of dozens of pins available for trade, but the boards
only come out every so often. It's surprisingly fun to peruse the pins,
poring over them like greedy ten-year-olds examining baseball cards.
Curse this hobby!
Family games add value. One reader wrote to me that his family
does a daily challenge. "Let's all trade for Winnie the Pooh today,"
they might say, and the winner will be whoever can end the day with the
most Winnie the Pooh pins. A wonderful idea, I say.
Pin trading can teach politeness. Kids learn to ask politely
"May I see your pins, please?" and learn to always say "thank you" after
a (non-) transaction, so the game becomes a stealth way of enforcing
manners. My own child benefits from the "virtues of waiting" until a CM
actually becomes available!