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Old cattle dog learns new tricks

One big blur. That’s how I anticipated retail in 2012, and that’s how it’s playing out.

On the one hand, it’s a blur of speed as the pace of change ramps up and consumer attention spans shorten.

On the other, it’s a blurring of lines between old and new retail. And the biggest blur of all is among digital and physical.

Now the digital revolution is hitting catalogues big time. Yes, the old cattle dog is learning new digital tricks, in both its creation, and its consumption. One of the best examples of the trend is the grand daddy of catalogues – the 62 year old big book from Ikea.

As the Wall Street Journal reported this month, the latest Ikea catalogue is “less pine, more pixels”.  This year, 12 per cent of the content for the catalogue has been constructed virtually, not physically, and next year that figure will double.

3D digital room renders cost less money to produce and are more flexible to work with. So if Ikea needs to change out a furniture item or a timber colour for a particular country, it’s as easy as flicking a switch.

Digital retouching is nothing new, it’s been happening for years, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of entire detailed room settings being convincingly built on a computer screen.

The Ikea catalogue is also embracing digital in its publication and interactivity. It pre-released this year’s edition on tablets and smartphones, and when the catalogue itself lobbed onto lawns across the world with an almighty thump, it featured “inspiring films and interactive features”, accessed by opening an Ikea catalogue app and scanning pages.

Consistent with Ikea’s brand image, the publishers have been playful with the use of technology.

On some pages readers (or perhaps viewers?) can unlock short films or quirky presentations from designers, on others there are additional product images, and the occasional page even offers the ability to gain an x-ray view into cupboards.

Initially, I found it difficult to make it all work – do you scan the icon or the entire page? But once you get the hang of it, it’s engaging, fun, and useful.

Eventually, environmental considerations will see the Ikea catalogue go the way of the phone book. The resources involved with printing and distributing 208 million hard copy catalogues this year – 62 different versions in 43 countries – must be staggering. 

It’s far more efficient to zap it to your tablet, and the picture resolution is better. But in the meantime, it’s fascinating to see how digital is infiltrating one of the pillars of retail marketing.

* Jon Bird is CEO of specialist retail marketing agency IdeaWorks ( Email. Blog: Twitter: @thetweetailer

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