The typical set route customers have taken through an Ikea store for decades, independently following arrows through mocked-up rooms that, even if hours later, eventually lead to the checkout, may soon be consigned to history.
The company has announced plans to introduce what it calls a more immersive experience.
According to industry media reports, customers can expect to become “part of the furniture” by lounging around in the spaces, and becoming the focus of attention if they want, with the Swedish retailer’s new concept that it says is aimed at encouraging sustainability.
Customers will be invited to hang out with social media “influencers” or retreat to relaxing areas of the store. In several activities, including light therapy, they will be encouraged to “interact, connect, recharge” and, of course, take selfies. They will also be invited to participate in workshops in “creative rooms” in which they can make and repair household items, according to the reports.
What Ikea is calling a “home experience of tomorrow” is to be trialled in Shanghai, China. It has previously been tested on customers in the Polish city of Szczecin, where it was promoted as an opportunity to learn about sustainable living.
“See how to make your home live with full respect for nature. You will learn about the new role of houseplants. You will find new, efficient ways to process waste. You will regenerate yourself with light and try the zero-waste cuisine,” the Szczecin pitch to customers read. Also on offer were instructions on how to make micro gardens, with fertiliser thrown in for free. Ikea suggested visitors may even feel so inspired by the experience as to want to help improve the environment outside the store.
Trials in London and Vienna are to follow later this year. If successful, the model is expected to be rolled out across Europe, according to retail media publications.
Ikea’s press office refused a request for an interview, citing time constraints. Whether the new experience will work alongside the traditional arrowed path system, or replace it entirely, is unclear.
But the chief executive and president of Ikea China, Anna Pawlak-Kuliga, who also has the title of sustainability officer, told the German retail magazine Lebensmittel Zeitung (Grocery Newspaper): “People have high expectations of their homes and a considerable need to belong to a social community.”
With the introduction of the new concept it was hoped that “consumers can continue to be inspired to lead a meaningful life at home, as well as outside their own homes,” she added.
Retail commentators are calling the move “revolutionary”, as the Ikea guided path concept, along with Scandinavian meatballs and lingonberry jam, has been so influential on furniture shopping.
While it will be seen as a reaction to pandemic living, in which making the home cosy became an obsession for some consumers, it will open Ikea to renewed accusations of greenwashing over the contradiction between mass production and sustainability. In the past Ikea has tried to emphasise its green credentials by joining a carpool service, introducing a buy-back and resell service, and participating in a retail light-dimming campaign.
Last year it said it had carried out audits across Europe over claims – which it denied – that it had used illegally logged wood in its products.