I recently wrote an article about my plans to get SkyMall back into the air, and I’m pleased to say that we are in the “refueling” stage of our journey back to the skies! While there are a lot of steps, tons of work, and some potential turbulence ahead of us, the deeper I get into the process, the more exciting it is. This is absolutely a huge opportunity and a great and profitable business. I cannot wait to get started and launch SkyMall back into the skies where it belongs.
The press (and the world) has taken notice, too. CNBC, CNN, NBC News,TechCrunch, Engadget, AdWeek, TravelPulse, and even the Hollywood Reporter picked up the story (along with dozens of other outlets). SkyMall is part of our culture as travelers, and the response has been amazingly encouraging that I am on the right track. It’s clear that people want a new SkyMall.
Transparency is one of my favorite business practices (I even wrote about that in my book, Pocket Man), so here is some radical transparency as I lay out further details of the plan. If you hear a grinding sound, it’s probably just my business partners rolling their eyes… but transparency is that important! Here is another look under the hood, with more detail.
Whenever a business enters bankruptcy proceedings, it’s a foregone conclusion that “something went wrong.” It could be the economic or political climate (macro trends), it could be a cash flow or marketing issue, it could be a management issue, or something else entirely. There are an almost infinite number of permutations and combinations that can doom a business.
While doing our due diligence on SkyMall, our first job was to figure out why it failed. We identified three core problems:
1) The current SkyMall team seemed like bright, interested people, but they missed the mark by not marketing directly to people who were traveling and captive on a plane. Surprisingly the content of SkyMall had nothing to do with the activity that was occupying their readers: the act of getting from point A to point B – and what they were going to do when they landed.
If someone is shopping for cars… they’re thinking about cars. If someone is traveling in a plane… they’re thinking about traveling. There is nothing about air travel – as far as we could tell – that had ANYTHYING to do with kitschy garden gnomes or USB-enabled paper towel dispensers. This lack of focus on travel-related items resulted in conversion rates that were far below where they should have been.
I don’t think the ‘digital revolution’ on planes is a reason for SkyMall’s failure. It’s an opportunity for SkyMall’s evolution.”
2) Another publicly-cited reason for SkyMall’s failure was that it was no longer viable in catalog form because people had too many other digital distractions while flying, primarily tablets. That could not be further from the truth. People like variety in their entertainment, and the captive audience on a plane will readily turn to a copy of SkyMall to mix things up when they get bored… but only if the content is compelling.
That seat-back pocket is still incredibly valuable real estate. The digital revolution on airplanes was not the reason for SkyMall’s demise. Instead, we see it as an opportunity for SkyMall’s evolution.
3) The airlines were not treated as partners. Let’s face it, the only way to have SkyMall is to put the Mall in the Sky… and the airlines are the only ones who can do that. We recognize this, and we’re going to treat the airlines as true partners – and that means giving them a healthy percentage of the profits of the entire venture.
One of the most important ways that we will evolve SkyMall into SkyMall 2.0 is by developing a very sophisticated app that appears very simple to the customer.
Before takeoff, anyone can load it free (without paying for wifi), then shop while they are in the air. Anything you purchase will automatically sync upon landing, with no need to pay for in-flight wireless. We’re already working with one of the top app development firms to build both IOS and Android versions that will launch right out of the gate. If things go well with the airlines, we will negotiate to have a similar app built into the seat-back screens on planes that have them.
We’re also working on a way to allow passengers to download the app from a server on the plane itself – without connecting to the worldwide web. Our goal is to have a WiFi hub and web-server – named SkyMall of course – that sits next to GoGo or other in-flight WiFi offerings. This on-plane “intranet” will include a completely updated version of our catalog, and will make it simple to shop without having to downlink to the internet while in flight. When the plane lands it’ll sync up orders, inventory updates and new merchandise via the cellular network available worldwide.
That requires a lot more engineering and onboard aircraft certification as well. But with the limits and costs associated with air-to-ground internet connectivity, the development, installation and maintenance costs are worth it – because of the rich and engaging experience we’ll be building for Android and IoS without having to wait for pages to load or transactions to process.
We want people to think of SkyMall 2.0 almost like an in-flight duty free shop, where they can find a better deal while traveling than they can at home. In-air purchases will be incentivized with discounts that could be as high as 20%.
On the Ground
The “Sky” aspect of SkyMall 2.0 is critical, but what goes up must come down. We want people to shop before and after their flights, too. Customers will be able to enter their flight confirmation number within 24 hours of their flight to unlock savings up to 20% off. Pretty cool.
A longer term goal is to connect with shops for pickup of goods in the airport when you land, or to have them deliver products to customers’ hotels or homes. Realize that you forgot a tie for that big meeting? Turn to SkyMall. Left your sunscreen at home? There’s an outdoor excursion kit waiting for you at your destination.
We want your boarding pass to be your passport to savings.
I introduced Jim Louderback as our content guru in my last article. If you don’t know him (pretty much everyone in electronics and tech reporting DOES know him), Jim is the former CEO of Revision3, the former editor-in-chief of PC Magazine and a TechTV host. This is what he has to say about the editorial plan:
Content and commerce are inextricably bound together. Entertaining product curation creates stories as compelling as those on Netflix or in the movie theater. By combining great storytelling with great product curation we’ll be building a cure for boredom AND an experience you’ll want to share over and over again.” – Jim Louderback
YES! That’s why he’s in charge of the editorial!
We’ve been busy on the content front. We’re in talks with J. Peterman about some creative collaborations, and could not be more excited. We are also exploring the idea of content with cruise lines. Surprisingly, these floating utopias have enough great stories to turn into a network of TV Shows (remember “The Love Boat”) but never seem to get much attention. We’re going to change that.
We may not know everything about air travelers, but there are two major things we always know: they are going to somewhere and from somewhere, and they’re traveling for either business or pleasure. Our editorial will cater to that. There is no excuse for every being bored while flying.
Our creative concept is to use the travel experience as a metaphor to inform our product selection, copywriting and imagery to create a highly entertaining inflight shopping experience.
Planned sections include:
- Departure: Travel gear and luggage
- Security: Gadgets and charging
- VIP lounge: Dining and barware
- Pre-flight: Productivity
- The Runway: Fashion and Jewelry
- Mid-air: Entrainment and/or Productivity
- Arrivals: Items you may need at various destinations
- International: Items from around the world
- Long-term Parking: Car-related items
- Home: Home-related items
The print experience will be mirrored by a digital portal that is accessible for free to all customers via their phone, tablet or computer during flights, with some added interactive features. Destinations and “your next trip” will also be recurring themes, since we want to speak to travelers while they are thinking about travel.
SkyMall 2.0 may be flying through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, but it’s not rocket science!
Ok, if you have been in SkyMall before or think that your product needs to be in SkyMall 2.0, please, please, please don’t call or email us yet. We have fielded hundreds of contacts from product companies in the past month, and we are being as selective about who we are considering as our audience would want us to be. That takes time, and honestly we’re a little overwhelmed by the outreach. In another month or so, we’ll be ready to talk to companies beyond those we have already connected with.
Since I was on Shark Tank, you might also see some products from there if you are a fan of the show…. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.
Oh, and just in case… we’re contemplating adding a lingerie section with hotel delivery, too. Most honeymooners find themselves on a plane, you know.
What we still need to do before wheels-up
We’re spending close to half our time connecting with people. Some of the most important groups we’re in discussions with are:
- Select airline attorneys
- GoGo Inflight Wireless
- Key players previously involved with SkyMall
- MANY past vendors/advertisers
As much as we can plan and posit about how things ought to be with SkyMall 2.0, and why it deserves to fly again, there are some potential stumbling blocks that could slow us down. From our perspective, the name is the most valuable piece of property that the now-bankrupt organization possesses. But like any intangible asset, the value is open to debate. What will the market bear? With the “market” limited to my group and potentially several other bidders, this is still unknown. We expect the final auction price to be equivalent to the value of the assets, but I’ve seen auctions that veer wildly out of control.
It has also come to light through various news sources that SkyMall lost its contracts with the airlines. Those contracts certainly buoyed up the business, but I still think they were on an inexorable downward slope. But let’s face it: There’s no way SkyMall can be viable if it’s not in seat-back pockets on airplanes. Thus cutting a deal with more than one carrier is essential. I’ve already been in touch with the major airlines, and we expect to begin substantive discussions next week.
These airline calls are vitally important, and they know it.
For starters, we could use some feedback on this very preliminary first draft of the SkyMall 2.0 logo:
We’re playing with the SkyMall 2.0 logo, even though the 2.0 part is just a working title. Let me know what you think in the comments, and also what magazines and catalogs you think we should look to for inspiration.
There is still A LOT of work to be done, but I’ve been enjoying bringing you along for the ride… errr, flight. As a frequent flier for years, I never dreamed that I might be this involved with SkyMall. But life – like travel – is about seizing opportunities and going with the flow.
Fly along with us, and please comment below and follow me for more updates and insights.
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ABOUT SCOTT JORDAN and SCOTTeVEST
Scott Jordan is the CEO and Founder of SCOTTeVEST, which creates multi-pocket clothing designed to carry electronics. He is the author of Pocket Man: The Unauthorized Autobiography of a Passionate, Personal Promoter.
Read a sample of Scott’s book for more about his experience on Shark Tank and the pocket empire he has built.