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CHOICE: Ikea’s non-bovine ‘leather’ sofas


When Australia’s largest consumer group saw Ikea leather sofas described as ‘durable coated fabric that has the same look and feel as leather’, they knew something wasn’t right. Here’s Matt Levey from CHOICE on how they took Ikea to task.

A visit to Ikea is the true test of any relationship. You can spend hours debating the differences between a Fargrik and Smord, or whether you really need that sophisticated print of the Manhattan skyline, tensions rising as you navigate a maze of idealised living spaces.

It’s one of those harrowing experiences where time seems to stand still, appreciated equally by consumers in the UK and Australia – much like an episode of Neighbours:

Given these risks, it’s a good idea to do your homework in advance and visit Ikea’s website before venturing into the showroom. But until recently, that came with its own problems, especially if you were, say, trying to find a leather sofa at a reasonable price.

Ikea’s ‘leather’ sofas

Earlier this year, here at CHOICE we noticed something very odd about the ‘leather furniture’ section of Ikea’s website. It was in fact home to quite a few non-bovine bits of furniture, more like polyester and polyurethane.

The giveaway was in the ‘product information’ tab on the websites, with one model described as ‘durable coated fabric that has the same look and feel as leather’. To make it more confusing, some of the ‘leather’ sofas simply had leather on the ‘contact areas’ – as in, the bits where you sit – yet were listed along with fabric sofas in the ‘leather’ section.

We thought this showed plenty of hide, so in October, we gifted Ikea one of CHOICE’s infamous Shonky awards – our annual celebration of Australia’s most outrageous consumer cons.

Ikea makes amends

In response, the iconic Swedish furniture store fixed its website, making it clear to consumers exactly what they are coming in store to buy.

Meanwhile, we noticed the same creative interpretations of ‘leather’ appearing on Ikea’s UK site. Our friends at Which? contacted the retailer, who have now responded through Donna More, Ikea UK and Ireland Customer Relations Manager:

‘At Ikea we believe in being open and transparent about the composition of our products. We recognised that our product category descriptions on our website weren’t as clear as we would like regarding leather and fabric-coated sofas and recently took steps to clarify this. Unfortunately these changes haven’t appeared on the UK version of our website and we would like to apologise to customers for this delay. We are aiming to resolve this as soon as possible and would like to thank Which? for bringing it to our attention.

‘Customers can find detailed information about the materials of all of our products within the product description on every individual product page of our website, as well as our in-store communication. If any customers are unhappy with their purchases, they are of course welcome to return their products for a full refund.’

Thankfully consumers in both the UK and Australia can now venture into Ikea with a little more confidence, safe in the knowledge they won’t spend half their Saturday looking for a Norsborg instead of a Landskrona. But as for actually assembling the thing, I’m afraid you’re still on your own.

Have you ever spotted any creative online product descriptions that didn’t add up?

This is a guest contribution by Matt Levey, Director of Campaigns and Communications at CHOICE in Australia. All opinions are Matt’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


I saw the video a couple of months ago and it is very very good. In fact Choice’s videros are excwllwnt.

What with the Shonky’s awarded to the worst companies each year and the open and transparent governance they can certainly teach us a thing or two. They do actually own their own testing labs though some research is bought and some shared with the New Zealand consumer body. Excellent body.

I suppose if it isn’t leather it should not be listed under the ‘leather’ category, or the category title should be amended to ‘leather and simulated leather’. Some simulated leather might actually be more durable and stretch resistant than real leather. There are various grades and qualities of leather which many stores do not explain to customers – although price is a clue – and as an upholstery material it seems to have fallen out of favour recently as cloth and other fabric is more popular since the colour range, texture/pattern, and price give wider options. Not so many years ago every suburb and ring-road had its circuit of leather furniture sheds but these have largely gone as a handful of sofa stores have taken the market. A major advantage of simulated leather is the ability to upholster large furniture [like sofas, armchairs, and bedheads] with fewer seams and greater consistency of grain or colouration. If the appearance and quality are right, and the price is right, faux leather should not be denigrated, or passed over in favour of real leather, for vain reasons, and it might actually be a better buy in the long run.

Interesting point regarding the various wear qualities of normal leathers and faux leathers. Looks like an educational piece for my envisaged CAWikipedia.

Empowering the consumer with knowledge : )

There is a lot of information out tere but somehow one thinks there is an angle being played:
“Leather outlasts synthetic materials 4 to 1 and will not easily show wear. Leather will not tear and is much more difficult to puncture than first time leather buyers think. All leather and synthetic materials (including fabric) have a tendency to fade if subjected to direct sunlight for long periods of time.”

Many models of Mercedes Benz cars feature Artico leather upholstery. There is a little star next to the word “leather” and if you find the small print it will tell you that Artico leather is artificial leather.
It is a shame that a) Mercedes Benz does not use real leather in its cars like other premium priced manufacturers and b) they use weasel words to describe the product they are actually selling.

I would not have a leather sofa in my house. The idea of sitting on the skin of an animal that was enslaved throughout its lifetime so as to provide body part products for my species revolts me. Leather comes from a disgusting and cruel industry.

We bought an Ektorp 2 and 3 seater brown leather suite from IKEA several years ago, after about 3 years the cushions started to disintegrate down the sides. We complained to IKEA and after a lot of hassle they had an independent furniture advisor come round and he said that the sides of the cushions and backs of the settees were all vinyl! We were horrified! IKEA finally paid for 3 of the worst effected cushions to be recovered down the sides. However, now a few more years further on the backs and the sides of the the settees and the remaining cushions are peeling off! We will definitely be contacting IKEA for a refund and will not buy another suite from them.

Meant to say the cushion fronts and the arms of the suit are leather its the sides and backs that aren’t but the fact they are literally shredding is disappointing and upsetting.

Been trying to find the paperwork from the purchase and when the upholstery advisor came round and we seem to have mislaid them! Not sure if we can claim as its quite awhile since we bought them (probably around 10 years).