If you’re like me, then you were anxiously anticipating the arrival of the new 2012 IKEA catalog, and as soon as you got it in your hands, you couldn’t help but flip through it right away.
The printed IKEA catalog has been around since 1951, and IKEA now distributes approximately 175 million copies worldwide each year. The catalog is beloved by IKEA fans, and is acknowledged by IKEA as their main marketing tool, consuming around ¾ of the entire marketing budget each year. In fact, even the most ardent fans of the company would be hard pressed to recall an IKEA TV commercial (unless you watch a LOT of HGTV), print advertisement, or web banner.
More recently, IKEA supplemented the catalogue by launching a website in 1997, and subsequently added online shopping in 2000. While this may not seem like such a big deal in the age of ecommerce, IKEA has built itself on its in-store experience. Going to pick up a shelf or a bed frame is as much about walking the showroom and being inspired as it is about purchasing a cardboard box filled with flat-pack fiber-board. In fact, with almost no additional marketing effort beyond the printing and distribution of the catalogue and the wonderment of walking through its staged rooms, the company grew from a single store in 1943 to more than 150 in 1996. Of course, customers have always been able to order over the phone utilizing the print catalogue as a guide, but the move to online retailing marked a significant shift in corporate mindset for a company that has achieved extraordinary success by largely avoiding the flash in the pan marketing and advertising trends that come and go year after year.
Yet now, for the second time in less than 15 years the company is undergoing a similar shift in philosophy, as a digital application version of its catalogue has been created specifically for the iPad. I admit, it may seem as though the company is simply adapting the same old idea for a slightly modified medium, but the app is more than just a digitized version of the catalogue with some fancy page-turning graphics, it is a new way of thinking about the IKEA experience.
I was eager to check out both versions, and was immediately drawn in to my trusty paper version by the gorgeous room on the front cover. At approximately 375 pages, the full-color catalog features beautiful photography, and showcases all the old and new products and pricing. As usual, the layout is organized, yet there is enough fluctuation to keep it interesting. At a modest 7.5 inched by 8.75 inches, the catalog is not too much larger than the iPad screen.
I was definitely curious to see what else IKEA would bring to the iPad version, and was keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t just be a tablet version of the website or a pdf that was available though the app store, and as it turns out, my concerns were unfounded. At first glance, the iPad version does in fact contain all the pages and information in the printed version, and anyone who has viewed one will quickly feel a sense of déjà vu while browsing the other. But, IKEA did not stop there, and really made full use of the touch screen interface. The application contains links to the contents page, the IKEA website, and also has a bookmark function to mark your favorite pages, and after a quick visual tutorial, I was able to easily navigate through the app. Almost every page has extra content, which includes more detail about the designers, and more specifics about their new products. Some pages even have videos with IKEA employees further explaining the design choices, and touring the spaces. The one feature that I would have liked is the ability to touch any item pictured in the scene, and get specific product information about it, but overall, I was very impressed at how much more content they were able to bring to the app, as well as the intuitiveness of its navigation.
Ultimately, the question becomes, what does the digital version of catalogue bring to table that the print version does not, and how will one affect the other? First of all, the benefits of using the digital version for the shopper are obvious; more information, more personalization, and easier search and navigation. But the app does more than that, it makes strides to bridge the gap between the convenience of catalogue shopping and the experience of walking through a retail store. The additional content available in the app is accessed easily and organically. It does not require you to weed through pages and pages of information if you aren’t interested, but it does allow you a bit more insight into the rooms and products in the stunning, yet 2-dimensional photos if you are curious about them. For a company more like Sears or Best Buy, who lines up all the dishwashers next to each other and encourages their customers to make the rational decision, an app like this would be useless, but for a company who encourages their customers to buy with their hearts and eyes, this app gives them the chance to immerse themselves in the world of IKEA, even when they can’t make it to a store.
Obviously, the iPad version is aimed at a specific, and somewhat small audience compared to the worldwide IKEA clientele. But if everyone enjoys using the iPad app as much as I do, then it is absolutely possible that iPad users may choose the digital version over the printed version next year. And if that happens, you can surely expect to see versions tailored for iPhones, Android phones and tablets, platform specific programs for computers, or even a total redesign of the IKEA website in the very near future. This sequence of events would eventually reduce the cost of printing and mailing, not to mention the reduction in waste that jives with the company’s current eco-friendly initiatives, and while I don’t think there will much impact for at least a few years, we will certainly see IKEA echo newspapers and books, and begin to shift to more digital content and less printed content.
Aside from the potential to lessen the costs of their marketing efforts, what other effect will it have? It’s hard to say so soon after its release, but there is definite potential for it to help increase overall sales. Now that it’s downloaded to my iPad, I will keep it for future reference, and there is now very little to stop me whipping it out mid-conversation to show someone what I am talking about. That means that my 2012 IKEA catalog will be with me whenever and wherever I carry my iPad. Of course, my iPad doesn’t come everywhere, but I can say that I’ve never made a point to take my printed IKEA catalog any further than my coffee table.
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