At its peak, IKEA was printing more than 200 million copies every year. Like famed retailer Lillian Vernon you can still order a hard copy if you would like. Hopefully both IKEA and LV will not suffer the same slow and painful demise of the King of catalog retail, Sear Roebuck & Co.
As an interesting aside, Sears, before opening its first store in 1925, was a highly successful catalog-only retailer for decades. They enjoyed a massive consumer base, a vast distribution network and enormous clout with vendors. Sound familiar? Perhaps if their printed catalogue had moved online as opposed to ending in 1993, Amazon which launched in 1995 would be a much different company…
When thinking about a young couple’s early years of marriage, IKEA and their catalog was a must have. 2020 will market the first year of declining sales for the company since 2003. Their recession-resistant business is impressive as far as retail stores are concerned, as they even eeked out a small gain in sales during the 2008/2009 recession. The -4% decline in sales this year is also remarkable, considering about 75% of their stores were closed on average for seven weeks earlier this year during the March & April lockdowns. They had over 4 Billion, yes, with a “B”, online visits to their webpage which translated to online sales increasing 45% for the year.
Perhaps when young adult children move back out of their parent’s basement and into college dorm rooms or new apartments, sales can resume their once bankable year over year gains. Some of our personal bonds with IKEA stems from a trip to their food court for a serving of Swedish Meatballs before navigating the maze-like layout of an IKEA store. Sure, the process of building IKEA furniture is frustrating, and there was always one slightly tilted drawer or fragile bookshelf but shopping there and flipping through their catalogue was as nostalgic as can be. Aren’t we all longing for a return to normalcy, even if that means aimlessly wandering through an IKEA maze as your spouse or roommate picks out a new dresser for you to construct?
COVID has flipped our world upside down but is encouraging to see industries adapting. While many businesses are changing, and some will be gone forever, we will not say goodbye to IKEA anytime soon, but will bid farewell to their catalog.