Funnily enough, it never crosses my mind that they three major kids networks here in the US actually have online stores of their own (the Hub has no store of their own, yet). My default destination for online shopping is Amazon, and not just because they have everything. So I thought it might be interesting to actually visit said stores and have a nosey around in there to see what they sell and how well they’re doing it.
Starting with Nickelodeon, the homepage greets us with some featured shows, some specials some top sellers and an advertisement (because we all go to shops to buy stuff. In fairness to Nick, they’ve got merchandise for a good chunk of their shows (no Teenage Robot though) and actually go pretty far back too, Alex Mack anyone?
What they’re actually selling though is up for debate. Setting aside SpongeBob as the exception, Nick is a bit odd when it comes to certain things. For example, men’s apparel; which consists solely of skateboard decks. Yup, that’s a new one for me too. Naturally the kids apparel and toys are well catered too, but adults are going to feel distinctly left out.
Interestingly enough, Nick does have a ‘Nickelodeon U‘ section of the store that contains four pieces of apparently random SpongeBob merchandise. Yes, you can buy SpongeBob golf balls, golf club socks, a hamper and a shower curtain. Surely this wins as the most amusing thing I found on there.
The site itself is horribly difficult to navigate and is clearly not intended to be kid-friendly. It seems to be more of a token effort than something that is given serious attention by Viacom.
This one is a clear winner. Selling merchandise has been the cornerstone of the Disney empire since its foundation and their current online outlet continues the tradition. You can buy anything and everything there (including some fabulously overpriced fine art) and the company isn’t shy about leveraging the entire organisation either. You can buy Disney Channel, studio and park merchandise all in the one place. In other words, if it’s Disney-related, you can buy it. The store itself is easy to navigate and with tons of products, its possible to find something you want.
What I did find to be the interesting part of the store is the homepage itself. Take a look at it. Who’s it targeting? Kids obviously, but if you scroll just a wee bit further down the page, it becomes clear that the Disney Princess brand is being flogged for all its worth. You’ll also note that girls come before boys in the menu bar. Now that is not to say it’s a bad thing, but like Rebecca Hains, I just tend to take a dim view on how Disney targets girls in particular.
Lastly, we come to Cartoon Network, long the dark hose of the three but now enjoying either top or second billing. The network has really improved its online store over the version I visited a couple of years ago. Now instead of nothing, there is a ton of stuff, but not just any old crap.
All three networks have the now-obligatory iPhone cases but only CN puts them on the front page. Behind the facade there is a very well-designed and laid out store that could easily be navigated by anyone.
Besides the clear groupings of shows and types of merchandise at the top of the screen, the stuff itself is perhaps the best of all the networks. It would seem that Turner has gotten its act together as of late with a really good variety of products. I mean, OK, there still is the odd dodgy article and the usual toys, but how about not one, but two choices of Powerpuff Girls canteens? Or the fact that they sell stuff for a good many of the classic shows that have been off the network for maybe 10 years or more?
Of course as good a job as CN does, it could do better. Plenty of the shirts that are available elsewhere aren’t available here. So anything in Hot Topic or WeLoveFine isn’t there. A loss for sure on CN’s part because as good as their stuff is, the most exciting stuff is being done away from corporate control.
Overall, the winner in terms of range is clearly Disney. However in terms of actually creating a great looking shop that will appeal to their audience, Cartoon Network is on top. The loser in all of this is Nickelodeon, although they sell so much through traditional channels, they are likely not as worried as they should be.