Two Decades On: How IKEA is Still Innovating Customer Experience

With the media still awash with tales of retail doom and gloom, it was rather nice to see news of IKEA’s 22nd store opening, in Greenwich earlier this year. IKEA is, without doubt, a colossal retail success story and it is heartening to see that success continue - it seems - unaffected by the threat from online (chiefly Amazon, of course).

IKEA has always been an in-store first kind of retailer and maybe that is the key to its ongoing success. That vast store estate complete with restaurants and creches - is after all a considerable advantage over any online furniture retailer.

But IKEA has never stood still. As former global head of eCommerce, Jonas Hessler recently pointed out, constant innovation is in IKEA’s DNA, and is crucial to its ongoing success story.

Person holding an IKEA magazine with their left hand

This is a brand that knows more than most: that retail today is about experience - delivering relevant, novel experiences and services that speak directly to customer needs and desires.

The new store in Greenwich is a case in point. For instance, it’s not exactly out of town like most IKEA stores, so customers are encouraged to ditch the car and visit by public transport. But lugging flat pack furniture home on the tube would be no fun so customers can simply buy in-store and have their purchases delivered - via a fleet of electric delivery vans and bikes.

That also hints at a sustainability message, which is solidified by the store’s solar panels, which will provide 50%-80% of its energy.

Then there is a roof terrace with views across the Thames - available for hire - and ‘Learning `Lab’ workshop events, some of which will focus not on how to build IKEA furniture, but on how to take it apart. That is aimed directly at London’s sizable home rental population - so directly addresses a real customer need.

Of course, those are just a few examples, but there can be no doubt that IKEA’s success has always been driven by innovation. As Hessler put it: “Always innovate, especially when you don’t need it, and find a way to make more of the talent at your disposal.”

He’s right of course. After all, in an age of experience innovation, there can be no standing still.

Which leaves me wondering what’s next for IKEA. How will it further enhance that in-store experience and will it find ways to usefully connect online and offline experiences - for instance by offering useful online features for customers browsing on mobile while in-store?

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