30 June, 2006

The Little Pig that Flew

FlyingPig.co.nz was a New Zealand online retailer selling books, DVDs, videos and software. It was launched in November 1999 and ran for almost exactly two years, closing in November 2001. I worked for the company for all of those two years (one of only two staff who were there from beginning to end). I started out in customer service, soon moved on to content editor for the DVD & VHS category and then was promoted to General Manager of the company for the last seven months of its life. Halfway through its life FlyingPig was bought up by a larger company, ITMedia, so when it was wound down and eventually closed, such decisions was out of my hands and I was made redundant along with the few remaining staff.

FlyingPig may have long since gone but it is not forgotten, as evidenced by a couple of disparaging comments in the latest issue of the New Zealand Listener. The issue's lead article (not online at the time of writing) is an investigation of online shopping (“Hot to Shop”) and describes FlyingPig as an “internet folly” and a “dotcom disaster”.

If these descriptions were accurate, you'd think that whenever I mention my past career that I'd be met with either a sharp intake of breath or worse still a sympathetic expletive. In fact I've very rarely had to suffer the disparaging associations implied by the Listener article. Instead I have for the most part experienced positive reactions from both people I've met and worked with in the retail industry and also former FlyingPig customers.

In fact I was headhunted for another Internet retail position on the strength of my involvement with Flying Pig. Though it turned out to be a complete coincidence, I received the phone call asking me to come and work for Noel Leeming on the very afternoon that I arrived home, having been made redundant from FlyingPig earlier that same day.

Furthermore, the website software platform used by FlyingPig survives and is now used by a number of other retailers, including Real Groovy, which the Listener article features as one of its examples of an online success story.

The domain name has changed hands a few times since the Pig's demise, and is at the time of writing is parked here, and a fragmentary version of the former FlyingPig website (from 29 June 2001) is archived here.

What the Listener article fails to mention is that in the two years that FlyingPig was operating, New Zealanders were only just starting to catch on to the online shopping trend and the revenue simply wasn’t sufficient to sustain an online retailer. I've written a letter to the editor to defend FlyingPig's reputation, and pointed out that had this online store been launched a few years later, FlyingPig might well have become a byword not for ‘folly’ but ‘success’.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are quite correct to point out that Flyingpig is unfairly maligned in the media as a e-tail disaster. When it was turned off by Estaronline for non-payment ( and I had the job of doing that) it was a much slicker operation I believe it was not that far off being able to trade profitably. The weight of previous debt and excessive marketing spend had caught up with it though.

The work we did to rationalize the code base and especially the supplier databases made the subsequent launch of Realgroovy much easier proposition. It was and is still in part based around the same code base. (And for a while, on the same servers acquired for a bargain:)