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Ikea ditches its catalog, but other retailers are hanging on to them

Marielle Segarra Dec 8, 2020
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Catalogs placed at the entrance of an Ikea on Dec. 7, 2020, in Jarfalla, Sweden. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

Ikea ditches its catalog, but other retailers are hanging on to them

Marielle Segarra Dec 8, 2020
Heard on:
Catalogs placed at the entrance of an Ikea on Dec. 7, 2020, in Jarfalla, Sweden. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images
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After 70 years, Ikea is getting rid of its catalog. The company said its customers are growing less interested in catalog shopping, and that it wants to focus more on digital marketing.

But a lot of retailers still mail them to our homes. It turns out catalogs are one of those things we either love or hate.

Take Mary Margaret Giannini. Catalogs are her secret weapon. All year, she rips out pages with things she thinks her friends and family would like. She uses those clippings to do her Christmas shopping.

“And then I have extras, so I call my sister and I say, ‘Hey, do you need ideas for so-and-so?’” she said.

Giannini, who lives in Florida, gets a lot of very particular catalogs, including one that advertises Victorian-style décor, featuring, “frilly umbrellas and gloves and the like.” “It’s just sort of entertaining to look through,” she said.

I tweeted about catalogs today and people have a lot of feelings about them.

“I think they’re archaic,” said Victoria Carlson in California. “With technology, you really don’t need to waste all that paper.”

Andy Diacetis in Oregon said catalogs are banned in his house because they work too well. A few years ago, he and his wife bought their daughter an American Girl doll “and she just was fanatically obsessed with these catalogs. She would lay in bed looking at them; she’d be looking at them while she was eating breakfast and just kept asking why we couldn’t get her more,” he said.

Retailers send around half as many catalogs as they did 15 years ago. But that’s still about nine billion a year. Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association, said catalogs grab people’s attention, if only for a moment.

“You can’t make me open your email; you can’t make me go to your website. But you can send, uninvited into my home, a large format mail piece that tells me a story and invites me in,” he said.

Ideally, though, retailers would figure out who loves catalogs and who hates them, so they’re not throwing money directly into the recycling bin.

Correction (Dec. 9, 2020): An earlier version of this story misstated a fact around the number of catalogues sent out by retailers. 

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