SkyMall, the iconic inflight magazine known for its garden gnomes, shiatsu leg massagers, upholstered pet stairs and other eclectic items, is apparently losing money. A recent Los Angeles Times article explored whether the catalog "must modernize or join the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs on the scrap heap of retail history."
Details were a bit sketchy as to how much SkyMall was struggling. Xhibit Corp., a publicly-held Arizona digital marketing firm, acquired the catalog last year. Regulatory filings show SkyMall lost $3.2 million in May through September of 2013, the only figures available.
Moves last year by the Federal Aviation Administration to ease restrictions on the use of portable electronic devices (tablets, cell phones, etc.) as well as expanding internet access on planes are said to be taking away SkyMall's "captive" audience. The Times article also questioned whether SkyMall's quirky mix was still relevant.
The current front page of skymall.com features an summer/outdoors theme with items including Mermaid Swim Fins, Floating Table-Tennis Set and motorized Singing Gondola, along with some staples such as a Floating Lounge Chair.
Founded in 1999, SkyMall claims to be seen by approximately 88 percent of all domestic air passengers, reaching more than 650 million travelers annually.
SkyMall and Xhibit CEO Kevin Weiss agreed that, "Like everything else, we have to evolve." But he also told the Times the new owners won't deviate from the catalog's mantra of selling "the coolest stuff on the planet."
Indeed, much of the article and several recent ones around the merger celebrated those quirky items and explored how SkyMall's internal team scours toy conventions, electronics expos and inventors' conferences to discover the next hits. SkyMall's director of marketing, Jinine Martin, told ABC News that many products, citing Keurig coffee systems and SodaStream soda-makers, made their debut on SkyMall before going mainstream.
Speaking last fall shortly after the merger with the ExpertFlyer blog, Mr. Weiss also counted greater Wi-Fi access on airlines as an advantage. More than 80 percent of SkyMall's sales already come from its website. An upgraded website with video, games and apps for smart phones arrived last September and more online investments are planned. Mr. Weiss said, "With the Wi-Fi on the plane, we're just a click away."
Will increased access to WiFi on planes help or hurt SkyMall?