Opinion - Tech

Disney just showed what a post-pandemic economy will look like

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Key Points
  • Disney announced it will close 20% of its 300 retail stores, with more closures to follow.
  • The company will instead focus on expanding its offerings through online shopping.
  • It's the latest step in Disney's digital transformation, fueled by changing consumer habits that will likely stick around after the pandemic.
A pedestrian walks past a boarded up Walt Disney Co. Disney store in San Francisco, California, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Like many other companies during the pandemic, Disney has been forced to go digital faster than expected.

The latest move in that transformation came Wednesday, when the company announced it will close 20% of its 300 retail stores around the world. Additional store closures and an undisclosed number of layoffs will follow. The media giant said it will instead bolster its e-commerce business by offering more products on its ShopDisney website. (Sounds a lot like GameStop, right?)

The move is a signal from one of the most powerful companies in entertainment that the habits consumers developed during Covid — like online shopping with zippy shipping — will stick around as the economy reopens in the coming months.

With Disney's parks and cruises shuttered or only partially open for at least a few more months, much of the company's focus and energy has been around its year-old streaming service, Disney+. The platform has already ballooned to nearly 95 million subscribers, second only to Netflix. Disney expects to have up to 260 million subscribers by 2024.

Disney is not slowing down either, with a string of enticing shows and movies coming this year tied to its popular Marvel and Star Wars franchises. (Shows that debuted earlier this year such as "WandaVision" and "The Mandalorian" have already proven to be smash hits, dominating the pop culture zeitgeist every Friday when new episodes are released.) Disney unveiled late last year a slew of new content tied to those franchises, much of which will be exclusive to Disney+. As soon as one season ends, there'll be something new for fans to watch and keep them glued to their Disney+ subscription.

Disney's digital shift is an early glimpse at what a post-pandemic world will look like.

Physical retail stores will fade even more in favor of online shopping. Many movies that normally would have hit theaters will will stream to your living room instead. Media companies such as Disney, ViacomCBS and Discovery will focus their energy on slurping up as many subscribers as possible for their nascent services as the streaming wars rage on and more households ditch the cable bundle. (There will be more losers than winners.)

If you want to understand what the post-pandemic economy will be like, look no further than Disney's changes during the pandemic.

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Disney plans to close at least 20% of stores with focus on e-commerce