For those who are familiar with flying commercially, we’re used to being limited to what we can do while seated our often cramped seats. Over the years, our options have evolved to extend to more than just magazines in the back pocket of each seat. Airlines have experimented with ways to engage and entertain their passengers, which has also led to recent developments to generate new revenue streams beyond selling seats. One aspect we have taken for granted for so long has been the inflight duty free shopping catalog, which with the rise of popular online e-commerce platforms could be more useful as a surface to fill up an immigration form rather than where to find something to buy. However, this could change as the rise of inflight wi-fi has opened up more possibilities to allow airlines to replicate activities done on the ground.
Sensing the opportunities to leverage the growth of inflight wifi and the aviation industry’s interest to keep travelers occupied during flights, one startup aims to engage travelers and offer a revenue stream for airlines through digitizing the inflight shopping experience. French-based SKYdeals is looking to turn the familiar inflight shopping experience to what they call “Shoppertainment.”
The Travel Retail Industry and SKYdeals
While passengers may not always open up the inflight shopping catalog, most do not realize the large scale industry of selling items while onboard your next flight or at your nearest airport. It is estimated that the overall travel retail industry – which covers duty free and airline/airport retail sales – saw over USD $62.6 billion in sales in 2015. Industry experts estimate that overall sales will increase to around USD $85 billion by the year 2020. The Asia/Pacific region took up the majority of the sales, occupying 40% of the market. Air travel and retail provides a great opportunity for sales, with a captive market of around 3 million passengers per day, and around 700,000 in the air at a time.
After coming from the digital and e-commerce industries, SKYdeals founders Julien Sivan and Céline Braems started SKYdeals in January 2017. “We realized that onboard wi-fi would modify passenger behaviors and create new opportunities for airline companies to generate new sources of revenues,” said Sivans. They envision that one day you’ll find products or services to buy on your mobile device while inflight. Also, airlines would take the usual inflight shopping magazine, move it online, and provide a dynamic sales platform to offer personalized deals to passengers. Today, the platform boasts a selection of over 5000 discounted products and services travellers could buy while inflight using an internet connected device.
How It Works
To use SKYdeals, travellers on partner airline flights would access the online catalog via their internet enabled device. Once online, you could browse the catalog with temporary sales of items tailored for you and for your specific flight. According to Sivans, vendors would be able to set specific times or routes where items could be sold – similar to “flash” sales department stores on the ground may do. For example, an item could be sold only on Emirates flights between Tokyo and Dubai and have a different variant or service sold on a flight between Dubai and London. As Sivan explained, it would diversify and keep passengers entertained.
Where SKYdeals gets more interesting is creating a dynamic online catalog which extends to the timing and targeting of product sales. In addition to selling items on certain routes, vendors have the ability to offer “Fly-Over” deals, which would only be offered at a specific time zone during a specific time inflight. Sivans added that the platform could help airlines add sales revenue for retail items by offering group and flash sales.
The product and services that could be sold on the platform include most items you may find in a department store. Sivans also stated that the platform could also provide sales for services offered at your destination, such as restaurant, hotel, spa, or even tour bookings. If an item is ordered, passengers have the choice of the delivery method of home delivery or collecting it at the airport of arrival.
Since it’s launch in 2017, SKYdeals got its first test run with a partner airline with French Blue. It was there where Sivan and Braems learned about the differences and challenges around the varying capabilities airlines and their inflight wi-fi systems. “After a few months of test with this airline (French Blue), we made some adjustments on the platform in order to improve the technical performances (loading, cashing…) because the inflight connectivity is sometimes very slow and our interface needs to be the lightest possible,” Sivans said.
The SKYdeals founders added that they have also added “Plug & Play” event driven catalogs to test products or services sales during certain times without much investment from the airline. “These catalogs are available during special times during the year like Easter, the Football World Cup, or Mothers Day,” said Braems.
Citing interest from airlines without inflight connectivity, Sivans added they are also working on an offline version. “Many airlines without inflight connectivity are very interested in SKYdeals,” Sivans added.
For now, Sivans and Braems have been discussing their platform with potential airline partners. They’ve taken the SKYdeals pitch to various conferences from the recent ITB Berlin Travel Conference and Aviation Festival Asia in Singapore. SKYdeals has established itself in Europe and will soon announce a partnership with a major carrier for its launch in North America. However, the young company is currently looking to grow in Asia, where the aviation industry has seen the largest growth over the last decade. “We’re currently in talks with several airlines within the Asia-Pacific, and new proofs of concept will be launched in 2018.”
While it offers the opportunity for airlines to generate revenues, the platform opens up new opportunities for vendors and brands to sell goods or services for the captive audience of airline passengers. According to Sivans, the team is looking to improve the platform which will include upgrades to enhance sales and allow for vendors to publish offers on an accessible web application.
If things go the way of SKYdeals, we might even be able to book tours and additional experiences for your next vacation via your mobile device while seated on a flight. Or, we could get that special discounted item while flying over Chinese airspace. As Sivans pointed out, SKYdeals intends to make purchasing things while travelling a real pleasure. One day, you might end up finding a special deal while at cruising altitude.