Digital Catalogs Take on Social Role for IKEA, Gap

gap-sf-party-with-rueAs catalogs become increasingly digital, they are evolving into branded content hubs for retailers.

IKEA, for instance, introduced its first digital catalog in mid-August, on its website and as an app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. The revamped IKEA 2013 catalog, which the brand created with its agency McCann, includes material from the print catalog and entices users to scan for funny and educational videos, photo galleries, and interactive DIY content.

In the case of Gap, its digital catalog directly influenced the marketing in the retailer’s physical stores.

Crafted by AKQA, Gap’s online catalog is a collaboration between Gap and five fashion and lifestyle blogs. The bloggers take clothing from Gap’s current collection, style them however they choose, and the look is posted on Users are encouraged to comment and share the look on multiple platforms including Facebook and Pinterest.

After the debut of in February, Gap wanted to bring the site’s experience to life and use it to drive in-store sales, said Courtney Kile, associate media director at AKQA. As a result, on August 16 blog partners Refinery29, WhoWhatWear, Lookbook, Rue, and Stereogum hosted in-store events to celebrate the launch of the fall collection.

Held in select stores in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington D.C., each party included food, beverages, games, music, and themed summertime decorations that reflected the style and attitude of the blog partner involved. “The events were a natural extension” of the digital catalog and resulted in “significant spikes in social mentions and reach,” said Kile.

Across all channels, has attracted more than a million views so far. A large percentage of interactions have happened outside of the catalog experience, per the agency. The catalog’s Pinterest page, for instance, has about 10,500 followers.

Gap promotes the catalog with online ads that give people the option to choose where they’d like to view the content. Gap also pays the blog partners to run branded content on their sites.

Gap chose to offer the catalog only as a website and not an app because the company didn’t want to create a destination “that the target may go to once or twice but isn’t likely to frequent,” said Kile. “We’re observing only a handful of apps achieving mass scale. By gaining people as social followers we’re able to establish a long-term relationship while sharing the latest content,” she said.

IKEA, on the other hand, has embraced the app approach, which makes its content highly mobile. People can use the new catalog app as “an illustrated shopping list” as they browse in the stores, said Lena Simonsson-Berge, global communication manager for IKEA retail services. The digital catalog contains about a quarter of the products offered in the average IKEA outlet.

Unlike print, the digital material can be updated through the year and each catalog page can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, and email. But the idea is not to replace IKEA’s widely distributed free print catalogs with the digital version. The company hasn’t reduced the press run for the print books this year, said Simonsson-Berge. Instead, the digital catalog is meant to enrich the print versions, she noted.

To promote its new digital catalog, IKEA released a YouTube video on July 18 that gave previews of catalog content. The video was announced via PR and blogger outreach, and within five weeks was viewed 316,000 times.

In mid-August, the catalog app was also promoted on the brand’s Facebook page, which boasts nearly 900,000 likes. In one post the company told fans the new print catalog had been slow to roll out, but “rest assured, we are trying our best! Please also check out our online and mobile/tablet versions and enjoy the variety of fun features firsthand.”

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