From digital focused city stores to relaunches of AI fuelled Apps, Ikea is fast becoming one of the most successful ‘big’ global retailers in the blended retail and digital space race. Frankly no mean feat given they were so slow off the mark with e-commerce. With customer experience at their heart, here are my 3 favourite initiatives that we can learn from.

Formats that are product relevant 

Obviously there was much hype and rightly so for the sustainably excellent Greenwich store, but the launch that really caught my eye were their city stores. It would be easy to imagine a mini high street store packed with take home / delivered within an hour products for city dwellers, but no, they did something more interesting and totally in-tune with today’s customer requirements.  

According to Ikea “A Planning Studio is a smaller store dedicated to kitchen and bedroom inspiration where you can find home furnishing advice and expertise to help design your ideal space. There are plenty of creative ideas to discover – from modern, traditional or space-saving kitchens to smart storage solutions and fitted wardrobes, you’ll soon be inspired to start designing.”

There’s not a tiny pencil in sight and everything is order-able online but what makes this so interesting is they genuinely demonstrate an understanding of the torturous time consuming process of buying a kitchen. A shopper journey filled with self doubt, a few arguments between loved ones and then the high of pressing ‘checkout’. Having sat in hundreds of consumer groups talking kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms I know just how important the human touch is in deciding between brands. And so from my perspective they’ve done something that really demonstrates blended retail – they have humanised a digital buying experience.

The challenge to retailers and brand is where should the emphasis lie  – automation v human interaction?

Visualising a product at home

Yet to be launched in the UK, but another customer centred initiative designed to nudge customers through the purchase journey is IKEA’s  app. It allows customers to shop remotely for products they can visualise in the context of their own homes. 

“It is a completely new experience,” Barbara Martin Coppola, chief digital officer at IKEA, told Reuters in an interview. “The app is combined with the store experience, with the online experience.” 

The AR features aren’t just aimed at those shopping at home. As Ikea moves to smaller, city-centre focused stores, the app will allow people in an Ikea store to see a fuller range of products than is possible in a smaller space. For instance, if there is a particular chair a shopper likes, they can point their phone at it and see other textures and colours available. 

“People who go to the stores might want to access the full range of Ikea, and that is when digital innovations come in handy,” added Martin Coppola. 

An innovation that allows you to simultaneously see the item in the flesh and visualise it in your own house overcomes one of the fundamental barriers to purchase that most shoppers have. 

For your next challenge – how do you embed digital into the physical point of purchase?

Harnessing the energy and innovation of start-ups.

Ikea have well and truly mastered the art of collaboration by engaging with tech startups to pioneer their innovation. The Ikea Bootcamp has championed a number of start-ups but the one that I’m looking forward to experiencing the most is Jido Maps. Jido is making the world more intuitive and interactive using computer vision and augmented reality. During the IKEA Bootcamp, Jido and IKEA developed a digital way for customers to easily find what they are looking for in stores. Which let’s be honest, is definitely required and absolutely conforms to a customer centric approach.  

Final challenge then – how do you create your own startup programme?

For more retail inspiration check out our Retail 2020 report

By Sue Benson

Managing Director