IKEA opened its first UK store in Warrington on 1st October 1987 (it’s still going strong). The retailer’s thirtieth UK anniversary seems a good time to take stock.
IKEA’s success on these shores seemed rather improbable at the outset. Then, as now, many of us had a love-hate relationship with the brand and its unique approach. Those of us who have experienced the frustration of inexpertly constructing an Ingo table, or wailed as the draws of a Hemnes tv bench collapsed, will have struggled to proclaim “Hooray! To the Wonderful Everyday.” Harakiri may have seemed preferable to anyone who has begrudgingly followed a manic spouse in search of a Trensum bathroom mirror in a maze-like and crowded IKEA on a busy bank holiday.
“We’ve already got a salt cellar.”
“But this one matches the hand-mixer!”
“My hands are full with this rug. We only came here for a mirror.”
Yet millions of us own IKEA products. We happily (more or less) put its tables and bookcases together ourselves and make the effort to visit its stores in search of bargain furniture, sustained by the promise of café meatballs. For British shoppers the appeal of “Scandi” design, a dazzling choice of almost 10,000 products and value for money across the board is seemingly as intoxicating today as it was in 1987.
The numbers speak for themselves. By the end of 2018 there will be 22 IKEA stores in the UK and 1.2 million shoppers a week visit one of the current stores. Altogether almost 350 stores are located in 28 countries across the globe. IKEA’s cross-cultural appeal and longevity are undeniable.
In an interesting recent interview Gillian Drakeford, Ikea’s UK boss, who started working for IKEA at the first Warrington store, pointed to some of the challenges that lie ahead. A business built upon the appeal of big-box stores now has to meet the rapidly changing expectations of shoppers, who have less time, own fewer cars and expect outstanding online service as standard. The limited reach of the existing stores also still puts a significant proportion of the UK’s population outside of reasonable driving distance.
Steps to future-proof the business and better meet the needs of shoppers are underway, however. This includes potential wider tie-ups with Amazon and Alibaba; the recent acquisition of TaskRabbit (a website for hiring people for odd jobs… such as putting together IKEA furniture); consideration of selling IKEA products second-hand; and the opening of new stores in Sheffield, Exeter and Greenwich. Allied to a firm ongoing commitment to the design fundamentals that underpinned historic success, this potentially bodes well for IKEA, its loyal customers – and perhaps for spouses eager to avoid marathon tests of their shopping stamina…