SkyMall describes itself in five words: "Innovative Products at Low Prices."
Whether the company's products are innovative or quirky or just plain silly can be debated: Is a 6-foot-high Garden Yeti ($2,250, plus shipping) innovative?
As for the low-price claim, my impression—based on many hours of riffling through SkyMall catalogs, to stave off the boredom of tarmac delays and long flights—had always been that SkyMall's prices were notably high. And a quick random check did nothing to convince me otherwise. A Samsung Galaxy Note 8 that can be purchased for $329.99 from Best Buy is currently priced at $469.99 on SkyMall. A SpaceMate Folding Stepper exerciser priced at $122.18 from SkyMall is $98.99 at Target. A Breville BKE820XL Variable Temperature Kettle costs $149.99 at SkyMall, $129.99 atBed bath & Beyond.
Quite aside from SkyMall's gimmicky products and uncompetitive prices, and perhaps more disastrously for the company's prospects, airline passengers today have better options for entertaining themselves than the dog-eared catalog in the seatback. With access to gate-to-gate Wi-Fi and the airlines' increasingly robust inflight entertainment systems, many flyers see thumbing through a paper catalog as positively antediluvian.
That disinterest is showing up on the company's bottom line. A recent Los Angeles Times article reported that the company lost $3.2 million between May and September of 2013. The article quotes retail analysts' warnings that the company must reinvent itself to survive.
So what's a flailing company to do? Create a loyalty program, of course!
This month, SkyMall launched its SkyMall Rewards program, a fairly typical earn-and-burn scheme for online purchases.
- Members earn one point for every $1 in purchases.
- Launch promotion: double points for the first purchase.
- When redeemed for purchases, 200 points = $10.
- Points may be combined with cash for purchases.
- Purchases made by phone, mail, or fax do not earn points.
- Points expire after 12 months of inactivity.
So, at the end of the day, the program delivers a 5 percent rebate on future SkyMall purchases. That's a decent return, but to get it, consumers must find SkyMall's products desirable and price-competitive.
Even a weak loyalty program will increase customer engagement and spending somewhat. But creating and implementing a loyalty scheme is an expensive and time-consuming project. Will the resulting increase in revenue offset the program costs? I suspect not. This looks like a case of putting lipstick on a pig. Or on a garden gnome.
Reader Reality Check
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This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.