Retail Sales Take Flight with Free WiFi Service

Discussion
Jul 05, 2011
Tom Ryan

WiFi is becoming more widely available and affordable in flights. As such, e-commerce is increasingly taking place at 35,000 feet with a crop of deals enabling online shopping for free.

During the month of June, travelers with web-enabled laptops, smartphones or tablets on Delta planes could access Zappos.com for free. Under the promotion with the shoe e-tailer and Aircell, which owns the Gogo Inflight Internet brand, travelers on WiFi-enabled Delta flights clicked through a Zappos promotion banner at the Gogo access page, where consumers normally enter their payment data to buy in-flight web access. Clicking through gave them access to the whole Zappos website all the way through payout.

For the month of July, Gilt Groupe, the operator of the gilt.com flash shopping website, is offering a similar deal with Gogo-equipped flights on Delta, United, Virgin America, Alaska Airlines and US Airways. For Gogo, the leader in providing in-flight web access, the first e-tailer-centered freebie was (perhaps not surprisingly) Skymall.com, the website for the eponymous in-flight shopping catalog, for the month of December. Facebook and Google has also partnered with Gogo on free-access promotions.

Free or not, e-commerce is expected to become more common on flights with the arrival of much cheaper and more accessible internet access. Prices range from $4.95 for a short flight to $12.95 for a long one. Gogo also charges $35 for unlimited monthly access ($20 for mobile).

In an interview with Jaunted, the culture travel guide, Niels Steenstrup, VP of sales and marketing for Gogo, said 68 percent of passengers on planes come with their own WiFi-enabled device. Ultimately, Gogo is hoping to entice travelers with an “in-flight library” of movies and TV shows, much wider than those available from the airlines, while also offering videochat and other services.

Speaking to USA Today, Amy Cravens, an analyst at market researcher In-Stat, estimates that only seven percent to 10 percent of passengers on WiFi-equipped planes use the service due to concerns over the quality given the cost but also because of a lack of familiarity. The free-access deals are hoped to reduce that unfamiliarity, although Gogo officials admit the ploy doesn’t come cheap.

“This isn’t like offering free WiFi in a Starbucks,” says Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo’s chief marketing officer. “It is an expensive undertaking, and we are sensitive to reasonable pricing. It’s like asking Verizon and AT&T to give away 4G.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the e-commerce in-flight retailing opportunity? How should retailers be preparing for more accessible and affordable in-flight web access?

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16 Comments on "Retail Sales Take Flight with Free WiFi Service"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I think a lot of us who’ve been using the term “omni-channel” are thinking it has become inadequate. Retailers have (or will soon have) the opportunity to interact with shoppers and customers almost anywhere.

On the plane, at the airport, at the doctor’ office…anywhere people are “waiting” or otherwise not engaged, provide an opportunity for the great American pastime–shopping.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Great for etailers! A captive audience, money in the pocket, a great target, immediate gratification–what’s not to love?!

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
9 years 10 months ago

My first thought–does the airplane flying over your state constitute a physical presence requiring the collection sales tax? ;>)

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

In-flight shopping will continue to grow slowly as an increasing number of flyers are able to have access to Wi-Fi in flight. However, I suspect that when flyers are paying $13 to have access that shopping will not be a conscientious priority for how one’s time is used during that time. But if marketers build a better mouse trap they will succeed. Now I have to turn off my computer because we’re about to land.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

First of all, the Wi-Fi experience on planes is fantastic. While I would like it to be free, at $10-$12 for a transcontinental flight, it is a bargain. It gives you entertainment. More than that, it gives you productive time.

With regard to e-commerce, once a user is online, the computer provides the same opportunity as it does anyplace else the user has it. If e-commerce is a big deal at home, or at Starbucks, or at the office, it will be a big deal on an airplane. Free or not, it doesn’t matter.

And, if a retailer wants to be really successful, don’t offer the access for free. Give a user a rebate against the Gogo fee for visiting the commercial site. If you buy something, make the rebate bigger.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

You have a captive audience…you sell them something. It’s a story as old a retailing. We are seeing the beginning of in-flight Internet access. As time goes on, it will become cheaper and more ubiquitous. To take advantage of this audience, retailers need to make their websites and ecommerce offerings as consumer-friendly as possible, which is what they’ve needed to do since the web took off.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 10 months ago

Let’s see. I’ve got a trapped, largely immobile audience for several hours trying to pass the time until they’re finally released from the metal tube. This seems like a no-brainer to me, particularly when you consider the demographics and the increasing growth in e-tail.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I think if a person is an online shopper given the opportunity they will shop while flying or other places where they have a block of time that will allow them to do so. I admit I would be more likely to buy entertainment than shop once my work is completed, but I am sure there will be plenty of people who will be happy to shop while flying.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Small opportunity. Business travelers who use the connection will use it for work. Leisure travelers will look more for entertainment. The number of those who think shopping is entertainment will be small.

Kevin Graff
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Just one question: What took so long? I spend way too much time in airplanes not to recognize the incredible potential, as does everyone who commented above.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Free is good. Paid, not so much. Will people pay to access the SkyMall catalog so they an purchase a giant resin Sasquatch sculpture…?

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 10 months ago

The possibilities for inflight WiFi are enormous. The fact that the airlines have adopted the Greyhound/Trailways service standard leaves the flyer with few forms of entertainment. WiFi could make flying tolerable. However, I expect the airlines to ruin this by restricting WiFi access to their Sharper Image e-catalog. I never bought anything from Sharper Image because all of their products were priced double the market. I think that no retailer should have to do anything to prepare for inflight web access. Name one retailer who has a problem handling their traffic now. For the relatively few dollars that will be spent inflight, a competent retailer should not have to do anything.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I don’t know, most of the people I talk to use inflight online time to communicate and do work. And from my personal experience (eyeballing!), I see the casual traveler using computer time to watch movies or play games. So, to me, the opportunity to do e-commerce as if you were on the ground is pretty small.

So, could you sell a lot of games, movies and music in flight?? Sure. Will you be looking to update your wardrobe while inflight? Doubt it. In any case, sure is great to have that choice.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The winners will be the winners in online retail off-the-plane. It could be browse freely, with pop-ups, or pay (including as merchant purchase) and avoid the visual SPAM.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 10 months ago

Plane passengers are a captive and extremely bored audience who presumably have some discretionary income. Offering free e-commerce services to this customer niche is a no-brainer and any retailer with the capacity to do so should get up and running ASAP if they want to get an early lead in branding.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
9 years 10 months ago

If 68% of passengers on planes really do come with their own Wi-Fi-enabled device, the opportunity for on-flight e-commerce will increase as consumers gain more experience and the cost becomes cheaper.

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