If you’ve ever been to an IKEA store, you probably know what I mean when I mention the “IKEA Experience.” Now if you haven’t yet embarked upon a journey into one of these yellow and blue home furnishing emporiums, you’re missing out!
According to Wikipedia, “IKEA (Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd) is a privately held, international home products Swedish corporation that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, appliances and home accessories. The company is now the world’s largest furniture retailer.” As for their business idea, the IKEA website has it worded as follows: “We shall offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
So it’s a furniture retailer, what’s the big deal? Well a trip to IKEA is not like a trip to Walmart, where the goal is to get in, get your products and get out. People make field trips out of an IKEA visit. This place has a cafeteria-style restaurant inside, as well as a snack bar and childcare center. Who would expect that from a furniture store?
The minute you enter the IKEA lobby, it’s time to play by their rules. You see, there’s a certain way to shop at IKEA that doesn’t apply to other stores. At IKEA, you’re encouraged to follow a predesignated path (marked by arrows on the floor) to navigate through the multiple showrooms. Each room features IKEA products separated by theme, on display in “natural” settings. For instance, if you’re shopping for a couch, most likely you’ll be able to see it and try it out in a fully-furnished living room.
This is just one piece of the IKEA puzzle that sets it apart from other retailers. The restaurant and snack bar are also key. You see, these stores are so vast, they know you’re bound to get hungry somewhere on your journey. That’s why they’ve strategically planted a restaurant at the midpoint, so that you’re ready for a break from wandering through the IKEA maze as soon as you see it. Oh, and the food isn’t bad either. They lure you in with cheap prices for the meals (one of which is Swedish meatballs) and make up for the difference with the extras such as soup, dessert and beverages). This is a nickle-and-dime business tactic at its best.
Now don’t forget about the snack bar, which serves hot dogs, ice cream cones and cinnamon buns. Conveniently planted right at the exit, just a few yards away from the furniture pickup area, this is the perfect place to take advantage of impulse purchases made while customers are waiting for their pickup order to appear.
In between the two eateries lies the most ingenious part, the self-service area. This is where you load up your selections and head to the register. That’s right, at IKEA, you’re the stock person as well as the customer. After locating your product by the aisle number and shelf number, you load the flat package on the cart and roll towards the self-checkouts. Yes, IKEA even figured out a way to get your products home as conveniently as possible by packing them in flat boxes. This not only saves them on shipping, but it allows you to fit more items in your vehicle on one visit.
Taken together the IKEA shopping experience is definitely unique and worth checking out firsthand. What amazes me the most is that a company founded on thrift and cost-cutting can offer such an upscale shopping environment to customers while still offering some of the best prices in town. Now that it has worked so well with IKEA I wouldn’t be surprised if we see many more companies jump on this bandwagon and transform shopping from another boring chore to an immersive experience involving the entire family.
To put it in perspective, think about the difference between purchasing a hot coffee from a gas station and purchasing the same from a Starbucks. While the product is similar, the experience is incredibly different and that’s what creates a loyal customer base. Business is built upon experiences and IKEA has capitalized on this. Last year the company reported almost $23 billion in sales. With plans to expand in markets including North America, things sure are looking good.