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IKEA catalogue goes digital with ‘augmented reality’

The exterior of a IKEA store is pictured in Bordeaux, southwestern France, February 13, 2010.

OLIVIER PON/REUTERS

There is nothing like the annual IKEA catalogue to make you feel that your home is not nearly clean, organized or sun-drenched enough in comparison. This year, that showroom envy is going digital.

The catalogue has attracted some devoted readers since it debuted in 1951, evolving into the kind of bright photo layouts and twee accessorizing that are now a mainstay of countless design blogs. This year the book comes closer to those online brethren, incorporating digital technology into its pages with augmented reality. That technology allows readers to scan the pages with their tablets or smartphones, to reveal extra content.

Often this type of augmented reality feature uses QR (quick response) codes that look like scrambled barcodes. IKEA's does not. Instead, the catalogue simply includes a small icon that looks like a mobile device on the pages for which extra content is available. It can be viewed through a downloadable app on devices powered by Android or Apple's operating systems. This is the first time the book is using augmented reality.

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The company has revealed the revamped catalogue design in a teaser ad. The digital enhancements were developed by New York agency McCann. The interactive elements are a global initiative, and will be available in catalogues around the world - 43 countries in total. They land in Canadian mailboxes beginning on Aug. 13.

The change in the IKEA catalogue is indicative of a larger move among companies to make traditional forms of advertising more relevant to their growing base of digitally savvy customers. Some retailers have been reluctant to jettison direct mail brochures and catalogues altogether, saying the print releases still drive sales.

IKEA's app will let readers watch how-to videos, see the products on the page in a 3-D view, and find extra photos (in case 300-plus printed pages aren't enough). It's a further push into digital for the retailer, which has already offered digital copies of its print catalogue in recent years.

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