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'Emotional But Rational': Ikea Discontinues Its Long-Running Catalog

Ikea says it is ending its famous catalog of home furnishings after a 70-year run, citing changes in how people shop and how they consume media.
Ikea Museum
Ikea says it is ending its famous catalog of home furnishings after a 70-year run, citing changes in how people shop and how they consume media.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea is ending production of its famous catalog, saying the thick compendium of affordable sofas, knickknacks and housewares will leave "a phenomenal 70-year legacy."

The catalog has given people around the world a chance to reimagine their surroundings, featuring everything from new shelves and chairs to an entirely revamped kitchen.

"For both customers and co-workers, the IKEA Catalog is a publication that brings a lot of emotions, memories and joy," said Konrad Grüss, managing director of Inter IKEA Systems B.V. — the worldwide Ikea franchiser.

The catalog, Grüss said, "has been one of our most unique and iconic products, which has inspired billions of people across the world."

For many customers, Ikea's catalog has served as a road map, giving shoppers a wish list to help them stay focused (and perhaps preempt notorious "couple's fights") in the company's sprawling stores. It has eased people through life changes as they outfitted a new place to live, made space for a new family member — or just embraced a new look.

But people aren't using the catalog like they used to, Grüss said, citing changes both in the way people consume media and how they shop for home items. He added, "IKEA is already increasing digital investments while volumes and interest in the catalogue have decreased."

It was an "emotional but rational decision," the company said.

The Ikea catalog grew from 285,000 copies in its first year to 200 million copies in 2016, its biggest year. At its height, Ikea produced nearly 70 versions of the catalog, in 32 different languages. 2020's edition ran 200 pages long.

But last year, Ikea says, its online sales rose by 45% worldwide, with shoppers making more than 4 billion visits to its website, The decision to phase out the catalog, Grüss said, is part of the company's plan to "meet customers wherever they are."

Still, the news of the catalog's fate came as a blow to some Ikea fans, who say that for years, they've relied on it for design ideas.

"The catalog is essential for planning and WAY better than the website!" the most-liked comment on the company's Facebook post says. "I looked forward to mine each year. This makes me sad. ..."

Decades' worth of the catalog canbe browsed online. And Ikea says it will celebrate the catalog's long-running history with a tribute book to be issued next fall "filled with great home furnishing inspiration and knowledge."

The Ikea catalog was famous for introducing foreigners to Swedish words and phrases, particularly because the company follows a nomenclature in naming its products. Geographical names are reserved for specific furnishings, for instance.

"Ikea's ranges of bookcases are all the Swedish words for various occupations and the kitchen ranges are often grammatical terms, ideal if you are a prescriptivist," the website Lingua File explained. "Chairs and desks and fabrics and curtains are men's and women's names respectively, and lighting products are all named after a wide range of terminology from music to the sciences as well as the months of the year and the seasons."

The store's 1951 catalog featured the slogan "Vågen till goda inköp" – promising the road to good shopping. But in 2020, the company has determined that road is now found online, not on paper. And after years of saying "hej," it's time for the Ikea catalog to say "adjö."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.