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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Swedish for Magical Kingdom

I’ve been a longtime fan of IKEA – partially because I like the design aesthetic, but mostly because I love how they marry their retail experience with their intended target customer.

I’ve had non-fans describe IKEA customers as “people cheap enough to assemble their own furniture”, but that misses it. I would characterize IKEA customers more as “proud design DIY’ers”. I’d wager there is a fairly high correlation between IKEA customers and people that use TaxCut or Turbo Tax to prepare & file their own income taxes.

IKEA owns the entire experience, from product design & production through the retail & online environment. Consequently, the retail experience and the products themselves fit together very cohesively.

There is one intended path through the store. It is marked with arrows and limited “outs” once you begin. They want you to see their product environments in the progression they intend, rather than just allowing you to search out what you’re looking for, and leaving without seeing the rest of the catalog. This leads to project ideas, design ideas and much more impulse buying than goes on elsewhere.

Stores are configured in three separate sections, so people can follow the experience from well-articulated design concepts through to execution.

Products arranged by application – this is everyone’s favorite. Seemingly miles of display bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens commodes, offices, etc., all configured as fully designed spaces. Tags adorn everything so that customers can identify the items and where they are kept. IKEA provides measuring tape, pencils and paper as tools to let that spontaneous project take over and start redesigning your living spaces on the fly.

Products arranged by function – where the ideas that took shape in the design area get fulfilled. Sections dedicated to furniture, appliances, textiles, art and the like.

Wharehouse – where the famous unassembled furniture lives. Odds are that anything you wrote down in the design section that had a grid reference like “G7”, which points you to an aisle & section of the warehouse where you pick up the boxes that will, with your own effort, become that armoire you couldn’t resist.

Everything not related to the main retail experience keeps the IKEA look & feel, but is provided as an absolute loss leader. They know that their experience is a commitment and takes substantial time. If the cafeteria was expensive, customers would leave for lunch, intending to come back, but never really doing so. As a result, my pasta was $1.59, and my mushroom bisque $0.79, and BOTH were of better quality than what I would have received at a fast casual restaurant down the street. Their onsite child care is configured similarly.

Comedy acts have poked reasonable fun at the difficulty of IKEA furniture assembly. The 5 hours I spent in 2002 putting a china cabinet with an allen key bears witness that it is at least somewhat merited. But even in this, IKEA customers wear those experiences like a badge. In the end, they’re proud design do-it-yourselfers, and IKEA creates an environment that is exceptional at serving that segment.

1 comment:

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