Ikea and what comes next for print catalogs

It’s been seven decades, but Ikea is officially saying goodbye to its printed catalog.

The decision was announced on Monday (December 7) as the Ikea brand continues to go digital, according to published reports. The readership of the catalog has therefore fallen sharply in recent years.

Published reports indicate that over the past year, Ikea has seen its online sales increase by 45%. The number of visits to Ikea.com has also exploded to 4 billion in the last year alone, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and consumer reluctance to transact in physical spaces.

In the past eight months alone, Ikea has updated its suite of apps to make it easier for consumers to complete their furniture purchases digitally. The chain has also redesigned the footprint of its physical stores in certain areas to be small and friendly for urban placement.

World’s Hottest Single Read

At its peak four years ago, Ikea distributed 200 million catalogs worldwide in 32 languages. The BBC once reported that the Ikea catalog was the largest publication in the world, with more copies printed than the Bible or the Koran.

“For 70 years, [the catalog] has been one of our most unique and iconic products, which has inspired billions of people around the world,” said Konrad Grüss, Managing Director of Inter IKEA Systems BV. “[But] media consumption and customer behaviors have changed, and Ikea is already increasing its digital investments as volumes and interest in the catalog have declined.

But although the catalog is signed, Ikea has announced that it will not be forgotten. The channel plans to commemorate him with a book coming out next fall.

Not everyone gives up catalogs

Of course, it’s no surprise that a retailer looking to focus on digital abandons print. The same trend has been at work for ten years in consumer publishing. Circulations of books, newspapers and magazines have declined more or less continuously as consumer preference for digitized content increases in the mobile age.

What is perhaps eye-catching in the case of Ikea, and for the world of catalog publishing in general, is how inconsistent this decline seems to be when looking at retail. For every Ikea that retires from the print catalog business, there seems to be a digital brand moving forward with a new physical catalog of its own.

The top catalog trend of the past two years, especially at this time of year, is toy sales. This year, Amazon released its second annual toy catalog, joining the print catalogs of Walmart and Target.

Like the catalogs of years past, these books are full of beautifully photographed gift ideas for children – Lego sets, various Barbie dream houses, art kits, Star Wars toys, and more.

But what sets the new catalogs apart from their predecessors of yesteryear is how customers actually order the gifts. Instead of having to search for a postcard to fill out to send your order list, each item comes with a description and QR code printed alongside it. This makes it easy for shoppers to scan and be taken directly to the retailer’s page (or mobile app) when they’re ready to make a purchase.

Catalogs can have their value

Clinging to catalogs as a sales strategy isn’t just nostalgia for past shopping seasons, according to Tim Curtis, president of direct mail consultancy CohereOne. It’s actually a strategy that relies quite heavily on what we know about the human mind.

“We know from neuroscience that this medium [direct mail] is extremely effective at building an emotional connection with customers and driving demand,” he said.

And that deeper emotional connection is actually measurable with data. The direct mail response rate is 3.7%, according to information from Forbes. That beats 2% for mobile, 1% for email, 1% for social, and 0.2% for display ads on the web.

Creating physical collateral is of course more expensive than creating digital collateral, but Forbes data indicates that this cost is amortized. Leveraging the direct mail channel, US advertisers spend $167 per person on direct mail to earn $2,095 in merchandise sold, a 1,300% return on investment.

Additionally, catalogs also tend to have a bit more staying power when it comes to holding consumers’ attention, according to reports. On average, consumers spend 15.5 minutes perusing a catalog and keep it on their coffee table for several weeks. Some 72% of consumers say they are more interested in catalogs for a retailer’s products, and 84% say they made a purchase after seeing an item in a catalog.

Do catalogs work for all brands? Apparently not, since Ikea is closing its catalog after almost 70 years for lack of efficiency in recruiting customers or in sales.

But will the catalogs disappear? Almost certainly not, because as the holidays 2020 make clear, when used in the right contexts, they can still generate a lot of revenue.

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