The mag I love to hate: SkyMall

Marketplace Staff Dec 11, 2009

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

TESS VIGELAND: So chances are you might be heading somewhere for the holidays. Braving luggage checks and TSA lines. Once on the plane, when you run out of People and US magazines, perhaps you’ll settle for that seat pocket staple, SkyMall.

Commentator Meghan Daum has a sort of love-hate relationship with the catalog. But, flipping though it does give her a strange sense of hope for the economy.


Meghan Daum: Times are bad. We know this. But how bad can they be when people are still ordering stuff from the SkyMall catalog?

Yes, I’m talking about that consumer gazette you find tucked in the seat pocket between the in-flight magazine, the safety card and the barf bag. I’m talking about that catalog that sells not only branding irons that burn your initials into a steak, but also, the Slanket. That’s a blanket. With sleeves.

SkyMall has been around for 20 years now and has a circulation of 20 million. And mock it though you might, the average SkyMall consumer is between 35 and 64 years old, lives in a metropolitan area, is college educated and earns at least $75,000 a year.

So who actually decides what goes in SkyMall? Christine Aguilera for one. No, not the pop singer — that’s Christina. Christine Aguilera is the CEO of SkyMall. She’s also a customer.

From her office at the company headquarters in Phoenix, Aguilera told me she has the customized address plate and the bug vacuum — that’s the long-handled device that can suck a fly off the ceiling.

Her kids are begging for a Slanket, and she might give in. But she draws the line at the Garden Yeti. That’s a two-foot-tall yard statue of Bigfoot that sells for $98.95.

An airplane might seem like an unlikely place to feel the urge to buy such a thing, but consider this: The original concept behind SkyMall was for people to order with air phones on the backs of seats, which were new and cool when the catalog got started. The items would then be delivered to you at the baggage claim area. If you wanted a Garden Yeti and you wanted it now, SkyMall made it happen.

Today the goodies arrive by mail. And preferred customers get a special edition of SkyMall at home.

What are you most likely to find in a typical SkyMall household? Some bestsellers include the following:

-The Hairmax Lasercomb: It supposedly regrows hair.

-The Spy Pen: That’s a pen that doubles as a secret video camera.

-And the Indoor Dog Restroom: It’s a patch of artificial grass attached to an absorbent mat.

Aguilera told me the products need to be unique and nothing you could just pick up at Target. And if something doesn’t sell, it’s out. Like the Egyptian-themed toilet seat cover. Apparently, it just couldn’t compete with the indoor dog restroom.

Even the sky has limits.

Vigeland: Meghan Daum is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

‘Fess up, what’s your most memorable SkyMall purchase? Go to Marketplace.org and click on Contact.

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