Spotlight: Ikeas AR Catalogue

Augmented Reality is often dismissed as a gimmick. And, given that most applications of the technology in marketing dont amount to much more than a passing novelty, its often a fair point. But thats not an accusation you could really level at Ikea Catalogue.

Last year, the app was downloaded more than 8.5m downloads and – heres the key – opened around 42m times, each use lasting around seven minutes. According to Maria Ekberg Brännström, Ikeas global catalogue manager, the app looks set to easily beat those figures this year.

“We realised AR would be the perfect way to solve one of big questions for our customers: will this piece of furniture fit in my room?” she said. “Buying furniture is a commitment for consumers – it means taking the box home, assembling it, then maybe realising its not what they expected, and having to take it back to a store.”

So when users scan selected pages of the catalogue – marked with a plus icon – with their mobile device, theyre able to virtually place a 3D model of, say, a sofa in their living room, using AR powered by Metaio. Because the catalogue itself is used as the marker, the model is anchored to a physical object which can easily shifted around the room.

Its one of the apps most popular functions – 600,000 of these 3D models have been placed in homes – but its not the only content accessible by scanning the catalogue. Users can also access the usual selection of content, including expanded image galleries, videos and 360° views of showrooms.

Finding the use case

Ikea is lucky, in a sense. It already has all the models to hand from its design process, and the catalogue is a perfect fit for AR enhancement – moreso than magazines overlaying videos on their covers, it complements and increase the usefulness of print material – but according to Brännström, this was no accident.

“The idea came from a project with our agency where we were trying to redefine the role of our catalogue,” she told Mobile Marketing. “It all started from asking, why take the catalogue digital, rather than let the digital world into the print catalogue?”

The company had to wait for AR to reach a point where it was useful, Brännström told us: “The first examples we saw, the technology just wasnt good enough, and phones werent yet in line with what we wanted to do.”

This attitude also seems to define Ikeas utilitarian vision of the future for AR: bigger, better, faster, and easier to use. Has it considered wearable technology?

“I dont really understand the purpose of it yet,” she told us. “We would not exclude them, but we are only interested in applications that are good for many people, not just a few. Our work in mobile came from the realisation that everyone was using these devices, and the userbase for wearables just isnt there yet.

“But ultimately, any new project needs to have a clear purpose for the person who uses it. If it doesnt have that, it usually goes on the wait and see list. If we established a new problem where we think smart glasses could be useful, we might start exploring the possibilities. 

“But thats always the first question we ask of any technology: how can we make the most of this?”