The death of the printed catalogue? Far from it.

Wondering when IKEA’s 2020 catalogue will be landing on your doorstep? Depending on where you live, it may not be coming at all. This year, for the first time ever, the stylish Swedes have decided they won’t be distributing their print catalogue in the same way they traditionally have – at least in some markets.

Fans of the flatpack giant in Australia, the UK, the US and Ireland will have to go in store to get their hands on a copy, while customers in the Netherlands are being nudged towards IKEA’s online catalogue with the announcement of a special audio-book version of the catalogue available on Spotify.

The option to specially order a printed copy of the catalogue is still available to customers who don’t want to go in store or browse the catalogue online, but the furniture juggernaut is probably expecting such requests will be fairly rare.

So what can this shift in distribution tell us about IKEA, retail, and the future of print catalogues in general? Maybe a little, maybe a lot.

As the world’s largest furniture retailer, IKEA’s commitment to reducing its environmental impact is commendable, and every catalogue not printed makes a difference – something its more socially-conscious customers are sure to appreciate. However, with 200 million copies of the IKEA catalogue printed every year around the world, there’s still a long way to go.

But while IKEA is choosing to print fewer catalogues, eBay has recently – for the first time ever – decided to press print. Exclusive to Australia, eBay’s debut print catalogue was published in May this year to help “bring together the online shopping and physical worlds”, according to eBay Australia chief marketing officer Julie Nestor. 

Says Nestor, “We’re adopting a similar strategy many traditional bricks and mortar retailers have – by having both a physical and online presence.”

Interesting. eBay, with its enormous wealth of data, has started printing ‘dumb’ catalogues (as in, they can’t capture data) whereas IKEA, the producer of the world’s most widely circulated print catalogue, is ramping up efforts to nudge customers to their digital catalogue.

What’s next, a printed Amazon catalogue? Well, they did that last year in fact. Smaller in the scope of products featured than eBay’s Australian catalogue, Amazon’s first printed catalogue focused on toys in the lead up to Christmas, with 70 pages of everything from Lego to Disney to Barbie.

One small but telling addition was a QR code on every page to make the ordering process even easier. Not entirely dissimilar to the QR codes to be found all around IKEA’s small-format stores in places like New York, London, Tokyo and Sydney.

In a hyper-competitive climate, it seems retailers are trying any and all new channels to ensure they’re not missing opportunities for growth. And for eBay and Amazon, one such ‘new’ channel was the tried and true printed catalogue, suggesting a data-driven ‘best-of-both-online-and-offline worlds’ approach is increasingly difficult to avoid. Remember it wasn’t that long ago that IKEA didn’t offer delivery, and it wasn’t that long ago that a printed eBay catalogue would have sounded silly. Curious times ahead.

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