Ikea to stop publishing its iconic catalog after 70 years

Ikea’s legendary telephone book–size catalog is no more.

The Swedish furniture retailer said on Monday that the 2021 catalog it published in October would be its last, putting the kibosh on a central marketing tool Ikea has used to great success for 70 years. Ikea cited declining use of the catalog and the need for a more modern way to showcase its wares to customers.

The first Ikea catalog was released in Swedish in 1951, featuring the MK Wing Chair, and was sent to 285,000 addresses in southern Sweden. At its peak, only four years ago, the Ikea catalog was sent to 200 million homes in 50 markets and in 32 languages. But it only produced 40 million of them this year.

“Turning the page with our beloved catalog is in fact a natural process since media consumption and customer behaviors have changed,” said Konrad Grüss, a managing director at the retailer’s worldwide franchisor, Inter Ikea Systems, in a statement. Grüss called the decision “emotional but rational.”

Ikea said in its announcement that the move simply reflects how shopping has changed, with people browsing online much more than before: In its most recent fiscal year, ended in August, Ikea’s online retail sales increased by 45% worldwide, spurred by 4 billion visits to its website. The current pandemic has fueled that growth as consumers worldwide focus more on their homes.

The company will produce some much smaller print items, including one focused on home furnishings, next year.

Doing away with catalogs can be met with resistance from shoppers who like their traditions. When J.C. Penney did away with its “Big Book” catalog a decade ago, it faced some backlash and a bigger hit to sales than it had expected. Penney brought the Big Book back briefly in 2015 only to abandon it again.

For many consumers, the catalogs remain popular. RH, previously known as Restoration Hardware, continues to issue its mammoth versions: Last year, one of its mailings exceeded 700 pages. Other retailers—notably Nordstrom, Patagonia, and Crate and Barrel—publish them too. Some younger Internet companies are also getting in on the action, including Wayfair and Bonobos.

Still, on the whole, catalogs have lost much of their appeal among marketers: The Atlantic this spring reported that the number of catalogs mailed in America had peaked at 19 billion in 2007, and by 2018 had fallen to about 11.5 billion.

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