Ikea is also a publishing giant, and it’s not going to lag the digital transition
Constantly cutting costs is a defining fetish with Ikea, which is how it can claim to have cut average retail prices by 2-3% every year over the last decade. It’s said that “they set the price first and then do what they need to do”. The other thing the Scandinavian furniture-maker, the world’s biggest, fetishises is keeping up with trends: recognising that the digital generation is using its shelves increasingly for “ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome”, it started minimising the depth and height of the classic Billy bookcase. Given its twin obsessions, what Ikea is now doing with its annual catalogue, which claims to be the most widely distributed commercial publication in the world but costs a bomb and 10 months to make, is not surprising. After experimenting over the last decade to see whether customers could tell the difference between photos and computer-generated images, it’s decided to gradually switch to virtual renderings of kitchens, bathrooms, workspaces, tundra maple laminates, Pax wardrobes, Abstrakt cabinetry et al. The company’s costs will of course go down. And soon, the estimated 400 million people perusing the phonebook-thick catalogue across 28 languages and 38 countries every year could be holding their smart devices over the page and getting extra images, videos, looking under the table whose name is Ingo or behind the ladder-back birch chair called Karl. Thank you, 3-D printing.
The company has its share of critics, who say the products aren’t durable and the stores feel manipulative. But fans want to move into these stores! Who are these Ikea people? Founder Ingvar Kamprad declared they do not drive flashy cars or stay at luxury hotels; they just want a comfortable house in which to live well—a need that crosses all countries, races and religions. Thrifty Germans are fans. So are the Chinese, who have come up with an alternative chain, identical down to the yellow and blue colour scheme. Isn’t imitation the best form of flattery? In India, we wait.