Vürtdaførk: IKEA, digital brands and the fate of the print catalog

Just as the furniture retailer goes all-in on digital, digital brands rediscover the catalog.

It would be understandable if you missed, amidst so much other news coverage over the past few months, an underreported tale of two catalog trends.

  • In one corner we have IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer whose venerated catalog has become an icon in its own right, announcing the sunset of its catalogs after 70 years.
  • In the other corner we have a more recent series of reports from news outlets proclaiming a reemergence of the catalog as savior for product and brand discovery in an ever-more-competitive online advertising landscape. Just a few:

Brands are seeing astonishing returns compared to the usual fare of social ads and email promos (from the stories above):

  • A luxury retailer ran a controlled test showing nearly 2x repeat sales among existing customers when compared to email promotions alone.
  • 93% of brands interviewed who actively use direct mail tactics reported an increase in sales year-over-year.
  • 73% of those brands interviewed planned to increase direct mail marketing spend.
The catalog's demise was greatly exaggerated

What’s happening here? Should IKEA reconsider its decision to eliminate the catalog?

  • The world’s largest furniture retailer saw a 28% decline in FY2020 top line revenue year-over-year, despite a 45% increase in ecommerce sales, appears to have led to a change in tactics.
  • Meanwhile, digitally native competitor Wayfair saw the same 45% increase in total revenue 
  • The home furnishings category overall reported a modest 4% increase in seasonally adjusted US retail sales in 2020H2, which could have been much higher if not for the segment’s—er, heavy—reliance on in-store sales

Today, digitally native brands are seeing the catalog as a greenfield opportunity. So, we set out to learn what consumers thought of catalogs in the era of shop-at-home norms:

  • 3 in 4 consumers say they are more likely to browse or save at least one type of catalog they receive in the mail as opposed to throwing it away immediately. 
  • This catalog engagement jumps to 78% and 80% among Gen Z and Millennials (respectively) compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers (70% each).
    • Some not-shockers:
      • Higher income consumers ($50K+) are more likely (81-82%) to browse print catalogs than those earning less than $50K (67%).
      • Parents are bigger fans of catalogs than those without kids (84% vs. 69%).
  • Most notably, consumers are equally likely to browse catalogs for ideas & inspiration (37%) as they are to make a purchase (39%) – and they do so at least once a month.
Catalogs and customer acquisition

As a follow up, we asked consumers which categories of catalog they’d be more likely to browse than throw away. The top two answers? Apparel (54%) and furniture/home décor (29%). Too early to predict the IKEA catalog’s comeback?


BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed March 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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