ARTICLE: “Life Lessons: What IKEA Gets Right About Customer Experience”

It’s 2019. It’s nearly March. Clearly, I’ve been busy. But in a good way! Writing, editing, video creation, managing a content calendar, overseeing projects (and a phenomenal marketing team) – these have filled my days for many months. And, too, I think some of the fruits of this labour are worth sharing here.

So, the time has come to snapshot some of this work. This will a) keep this site ‘a runnin’; b) provide examples of where visuality and writing crash into each other in marketing and comms, and happily so.

Today’s article snapshot: One that was fun to both write and research, and about a brand that had me pegged as a future customer when I was a wee lass: IKEA.

This post was first published here. It also appears here. Enjoy!

What IKEA Gets Right About Customer Experience

Live Unboring.

It’s an IKEA slogan. It’s also IKEA’s raison d’être.

At a healthy 75 years’ old, the Scandinavian born-and-bred brand has well surpassed middle-age and earned its place among retail royalty, continuing to thrive and expand its utilitarian-while-whimsical offerings into the online world. Its products are nestled in households across the globe. Phrases from its brilliantly funny ads have crawled into common parlance. IKEA isn’t simply a store: It’s a cultural force.

IKEA’s long-running epic success is the result of its allegiance to a specific set of principles that guide its every move: To nurture loyalty, a company must dare to be a fixture at every stage of customers’ lives. It must consider their every want and desire. It must meet their needs with products, online and in-store experiences, and customer service offerings.

The proof is in the pudding: Loyal consumers continue to flock to the imposing blue mecca in their town centers (and soon, urban centers) because of IKEA’s ability to hold a customer’s familiar hand throughout their lifetime. With seven decades under its belt, the company has much to teach us about how offering powerful customer experiences can make a brand a force to be reckoned with.

The IKEA brand is as popular as ever. It holds the promise of engaging in-store experiences; compelling, impish Swedish designs; and domain-changing storage ideas (oh, and it’s the one-stop shop if you need that trusty Allen key). As much as it is the IKEA product offering that has wooed us for so long, it is also what lies at the crux of this behemoth’s success: The offering of immersive customer experiences for the child, the teenager, and the ever-growing adult. As Maja Bricevic, a Communications Specialist with IKEA Canada, told us:

IKEA’s vision is to create a better everyday life for the many, and is committed to meeting the needs of its customers by creating a great customer experience, whenever and wherever Canadians want to meet us.

From helping parents and guardians outfit their kids’ abodes on a budget; to decorating a dorm room with hip but economically-viable necessities; to outfitting any place any one calls home; IKEA is unique in one very important way: It offers the experiences of a lifetime. And it offers them in-store, online, and in our own homes. It engages us visually, tangibly, and practically. Customers value how immersive this approach is: We love the catalog and cafeteria. We love the meatballs and mattresses. We love the in-house challenge of putting an IKEA piece together in our living rooms, even when it perplexes and infuriates us. We love online. And it’s likely we’ll love it for a lifetime.

Here’s how IKEA helps us to ‘live unboring’.

IKEA: The In-Store Experience

IKEA’s immersive customer experience begins at childhood, and in-store. Dotted through the sprawling building are handsomely decorated rooms reminiscent of movie sets, all showcasing IKEA’s latest catalog items in a way which makes customers feel both in-home and at home. Arrows line the floor, indicating that IKEA has designed a ‘vision quest’ for all who enter. There is much to touch, see, and feel on this journey for customers of every age group. The cafeteria is strategically placed mid-journey, and a hot dog stand and a Scandinavian grocery store are found at journey’s end (this is not surprising, as IKEA’s immersive customer experience builds up an appetite).

In addition to providing a unique and interactive experience for kids (who are also potentially future IKEA consumers) and adults, IKEA also keeps customers’ cultures in mind. As AdWeek notes, IKEA is an inclusive space in that it acknowledges a variety of diverse cultures and situations. There is quite purposefully “something for everyone” from the minute one enters the store to the moment one leaves the parking lot. And this transcends geography, too; with IKEA stores in nearly every corner of the world, Forbes suggests “there may not be an entity anywhere on the planet that operates in as many countries as this company does.”

The in-store IKEA experience is memorable, and likely the most effective part of its customer journey. It also offers an example of how enveloping customers in a vivid experience of your store (and feeding them, too) will keep them coming back for more.

IKEA: The Digital Experience

Ikea digital customer experienceSo many of IKEA’s digital offerings centralize the experience of the customer, encouraging them to immerse themselves in the products. These are even offered in-store, which tows a very interesting line between reality and virtual reality. Customers can design their kitchens either online or at a design station in-store. They can receive the now beloved annual IKEA catalogue by mail, or interact with it online. They can order items online, but pick them up at a satellite store. They can order items in-store, and have them delivered at home. IKEA has considered the customers’ variable tastes in time, place, platform, and space.

Again, this is no surprise. This retail giant has remained a chain-store chameleon by constantly adapting itself to suit the needs of customers by digitally (and continually) transforming itself. Historically this has meant the development of new apps and platforms (like TaskRabbit). More recently, the brand has offered  ‘augmented realities’ via its IKEA Place kit which at once makes use of a) consumers’ mobile phone habits; and b) their interest in envisioning how products will look in their homes (and without the hassle of moving furniture around). Using the platform, “customers can view 3-D renderings from different angles of over 2,000 products before reserving the ones they want in the app, which directs to the IKEA site to complete purchases.” These offerings are enjoyed internationally, too. But, like the consumers placed at the center of the brand, these digital experiences are dynamic, not static. They will change and grow as humanity and its tastes do.

IKEA: The In-Home Experience

We’ve all had our hands on an Allen key (or found one in our pocket, later). Whether friend or foe, you know what it is, when you’ve used it, and from whence it came: probably IKEA.

Its products are largely meant to be no-brainer builds, offering customers the opportunity to say “I made this” or “I built this” or “I got my hands dirty” with some level of truth. By the very nature of the product, the customer is central to the product realization experience and can even earn a sense of accomplishment. (It’s true that it can become an emotional one when putting a piece of furniture together gets more complicated than expected.) This is not something one can easily put a price tag on.

And while the DIY aspect is a pivotal one, for a brand keen on perpetual innovation, it’s only one piece of the in-home customer experience puzzle in the 21st Century. IKEA has of late entered the smart home market via ‘smart blinds’ and other products. Wired predicts that “2019 is on track to be the year that IKEA becomes a major smart-home player by playing to its strengths in brick-and-mortar stores, building online sales and leveraging tech partnerships with the likes of Sonos, Apple and Xiaomi.” That is: At 75, IKEA has only just begun to become a fixture in our homes. It’s forever young.

Whether in-store, online, or at home, IKEA has found success by immersing its customers in its products, and meeting them at every turn and on every device. While we’ve acknowledged the ways in which the brand has become a staple in our lives, there are still many ways to “live unboring” that IKEA has left to teach us.

And we’ll be watching.

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