While some shop 'til they drop, SkyMall customers shop 'til they come to a complete stop. The company is the nation's #1 distributor of in-flight catalogs that feature about 2,000 products provided by big-name retailers, including Hammacher Schlemmer, Lillian Vernon, and The Wine Enthusiast. Formerly a subsidiary of Gemstar-TV Guide International, SkyMall catalogs are found in the seat pockets of about 88% of US flights, reaching about 650 million passengers annually. Its catalogs are also found in hotel rooms, airport lounges, and on some international flights. Founded in 1990, the firm also sells through skymall.com. Gemstar sold SkyMall to private equity firm Spire Capital Partners and ZelnickMedia in 2005.
Spire Capital Partners put up the bulk of the $52-million purchase price. Greenspun Media Group, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, also participated in the investment.
While best known for its in-flight catalogs, which boast a healthy circulation of 20 million, SkyMall has a growing sideline managing rewards programs for credit card issuers, hotel chains, and other businesses. The company also develops e-commerce sites for its clients. This strategy to diversify has helped to keep SkyMall aloft when air traffic and consumer spending have declined.
To keep flying customers clicking, SkyMall inked a deal in December 2010 to make it even easier for airline passengers to shop online as they browse the company's catalog. Through a partnership with Aircell, passengers on a variety of aircraft can shop online at 30,000 feet with no Internet access charge. Carriers AirTran, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways, and United Airlines now offer access to SkyMall's website.
Admittedly cannibalizing sales through e-commerce, the company's website accounts for a growing percentage of sales; its catalog, which encourages customers to make purchases online, functions primarily as a support tool. The company's web-based system allows for expanded product offerings -- some 7,5000 items -- and also eliminates inventory hassles as orders are sent directly to its vendors. – less