Disney races to restock Frozen merchandise

Disney's hit film Frozen has become so popular that the entertainment giant's licensees can't make enough dresses, dolls and toys fast enough. But is that a marketing mistake or pure business genius?

Disney says Frozen 'exceeded expectations,' marketing prof says product shortage could drive demand

First there was Frozen, the movie. Then kids started dressing up as its main characters, Elsa and Anna, Disney's Frozen sold millions of DVDs and its song, Let it Go, won an Oscar.

Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find any Frozen-themed merchandise in toy stores. Parents trying to buy dresses, dolls and toys have been disappointed over the past month, as Disney and its licensees, like Jakks Pacific and Mattel, seem to have sold out of such items. 

Some consumers, meanwhile, have shelled out over $1,500 US each for an Elsa dress on eBay, while others have turned to handmade versions sold on Etsy.

Even Burbank, Calif.-based Disney itself has been surprised by the demand for Frozen products.

"Frozen is a global phenomenon that has truly exceeded expectations on every level," Disney spokeswoman Margita Thompson said in an email to CBC News.

She said Disney, which has been sold out of some products for a month, is racing to restock. Elsa’s twinkling blue dress (anxious parents take note) could be back in stock by late April or May, Thompson said.

"Nobody predicted Frozen would be this hot," said Time To Play magazine’s editor in chief, Jim Silver.

"It’s not like the lights that you can just turn on … it takes three months to get toys to shelves," Silver told CBC.

It seems ludicrous, but even though the Frozen franchise including products has made over $1 billion US, Disney likely left money on the table.

Product shortage could drive sales, prof says

Steve Kates is an associate professor in the Beedie School of Business at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University whose research interests include brand management. He told CBC that he’s surprised Disney — which he considers a "quintessential service marketer, right up there with Google and Apple" — made a mistake when it came to ordering enough of the Frozen-themed dresses from its overseas manufacturers.

But a shortage isn’t all bad news for the entertainment behemoth, he said.

Kids want everything ... on the other hand, kids get bored very quick.- Steve Kates, Simon Fraser University marketing professor

"It causes some consumer frustration," Kates said, "but it could be good because it enhances the perception of value."

In other words, product shortages can drive demand. 

But would a company like Disney intentionally create a shortage?

Kates said it’s unlikely a normally risk-averse company like Disney would risk a chance to cash in on the Frozen craze.

"Kids want everything," Kates said.

"On the other, kids get bored very quickly … If [Disney] let the toys trickle out, there’ll be another blockbuster."

Frozen could still be popular at Christmas

In Canada, retailers are counting on a continuation of the Frozen boom.

Toys "R" Us spokeswoman Victoria Spada said the chain considers Frozen a "top-trend girls property," and has scaled up orders for merchandise into the fall to satisfy the demand.

"Frozen products will definitely continue to top wish lists, even through the holidays," Spada said in an email.

Frozen’s popularity, Spada said, is driven by its characters — Elsa, Anna and the snowman sidekick Olaf (who is popular enough himself to warrant a snow-cone maker). Spada compared Frozen’s characters to the animated stars of the Toy Story series that are still on store shelves.

Frozen dominates bestsellers list:

  • No. 1 bestseller in nusic: Disney's Frozen CD: Music from the Motion Picture 
  • No. 1 bestseller in DVD: Frozen [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy]
  • No. 3 bestseller in DVD alone: Frozen
  • No. 3 bestseller in children’s books: A Day in the Sun [A Frozen spinoff]

"It really has to do with the entertainment … the entertainment is driving all the sales," Silver said.

Frozen, owing to its media dominance — it’s on's CD and DVD bestsellers list — has made it into homes and onto repeat. Kids can sing the songs, and aspire to be like the characters at the heart of the movie.

"Girls have fallen in love," Silver said, adding teens and parents are also falling for the film, which is good news for marketers.

"Disney is very good at producing marketer’s dreams," Kates said.

While kids are an easy mark — remember fads like Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo and Pogs? — Disney’s latest batch of characters have instantly developed a following that may make them a media mainstay. Already, there are spinoffs including video games and books.

When it comes to buying these products, Kates advises holding out if you’re looking for a good price — though explaining supply and demand to your child might be difficult.

"It’s a good opportunity to teach kids about patience," he said.