Forget the culture, what about your customers? Saudi Ikea and a no-women catalogue

Now you see her, now you don’t. Ikea’s Saudi franchise forgot about the half of the population that makes (most of) the decisions about what goes in the house.

Ikea has been in the news of late for all of the wrong reasons. If you haven’t seen, read, heard or been told about the ‘incident’, then read the below from NBC’s website.

Scrubbing the bathroom got a whole new meaning in the Saudi Arabian Ikea catalog. The Swedish home and furnishings retailer faced criticism after reports surfaced that Ikea digitally erased women from pictures in the Saudi version of the catalog.

In one picture of a family in a bathroom, the mother standing at the sink with her son was removed. Even one of the retailer’s own designers, Clara Gausch, was erased from a photo featuring four of the brand’s designers.

Sweden’s trade minister Ewa Björling told the newspaper Metro the vanishing women were a “sad example” of gender inequality in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive and must be covered in public.

In a statement to the BBC, the company said “excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the Ikea Group values.” It blamed the missing women on the franchisee who runs Ikea’s Saudi operations and said, “We do not accept any kind of discrimination.”

While every media outlet around is poking fun at the Swedish furniture icon (and Swedes take their human rights and equality issues very, very seriously), the question I’d ask Ikea’s Saudi franchise is who do you think is buying your furniture? I’ve rarely seen any man in Ikea either in Riyadh or Jeddah deciding on what will go in the house.

So, how is getting rid of women in the catalogue going to help shift furniture? How does ignoring your target audience and not promoting your brand values with half of the population, the half that (mainly) look after domestic matters. So again, what was Saudi’s Ikea franchise thinking? Forget the women, let’s keep the conservatives happy. And yes, you can find women’s pictures being published in Saudi Arabia so why did the franchise take the risk?

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