I’m sure if you’re reading this, you’ve had some sort of experience with IKEA. Perhaps you’ve had the luxury of assembling a BILLY bookcase or an OMLOPP countertop. Maybe you spent the whole day wandering through IKEA’s “one-way path” in their stores for a friend who “only wanted a few things.” Maybe you just go there for the meatballs.
Whatever your experience, one billion people last year alone had at least one of those experiences. IKEA has been in business for 74 years and they didn’t get there by being lucky. They got there because they’re good at what they do.
IKEA has pushed, changed and shaped our country’s perception about design by how they operate their business, and how they are handling technology. While you probably don’t think of them as kitchen and bath design leaders, I still believe there are lessons to be learned here.
USE TECH TO SAVE MONEY
There’s no denying that part of IKEA’s success is due to its incredibly innovative cost-cutting strategies. Think about this: When a large company like IKEA comes out with a new product, or even a cabinet company that we sell does, there’s a ton of work to do to make that happen. Let’s take designing, finding market fit, engineering and shipping that product (say a new door style) off the table for the moment. You still have the technical problem of having to get new catalogs, marketing materials and samples out to showrooms nationwide.
IKEA has the problem on a massive global scale. They’ve solved it with technology and creating a culture shift.
In 2012, IKEA started using computer-generated imagery to represent 25% of its product catalog. You read that right, 25% of what you saw in an IKEA catalog was a computer facsimile of a real product. As of 2014, that number was 75% and growing rapidly. Soon, nearly all of its catalog will be computer-generated imagery.
This lets a global company roll out product changes much faster than before. When they invent a new bookcase or a cabinet door style, they just ship new digital files.
They’ve also created a culture shift with their customers. As they’ve built up this digital catalog, they’ve gained their customers’ trust that the images in the catalog will represent the product that they are buying. If you asked the average customer 20 years ago if he or she would buy a piece of furniture based on a rendering, I think most people would’ve said no. Today, that attitude has changed a lot.
So what does that mean for us? Take a second look at doing photo-realistic renderings. They’re harder to do and require an artistic eye but, in many cases, I believe they can be worth it – not as a marketing gimmick or a fun tool to play with, but as a way to scale your business.
Today, you probably sell primarily what you have in your showroom. Why not use computer rendering to expand your offerings? If you get good at rendering and can confidently tell your customers that their kitchen can and will look like the pictures you’ve provided, you’ve just expanded the size of your showroom greatly without building anything physical. Your huge showroom can now exist on your laptop. Think of the possibilities!
Additionally, everyone says that, in this industry, we can’t just be order takers anymore. Selling experiences and solutions should be put above moving boxes and doors. A selling experience should feel like the beginning of a great relationship, not a transaction, and IKEA does this beautifully.
Sure, IKEA sells particle board stuff built by the lowest bidder that has to be put together by the end user. However, IKEA is building deep relationships with their customers but in a different way than we do.
They start with the store experience. By way of their store set up, they take the intimidation out of getting design right. A complete novice can easily understand why this lamp plays well with that carpet and that modern couch. They make customers feel like an expert without saying a word.
Then the customer gets home and has to put it all together. You might think this is a pain, but the people who want this stuff don’t think so. The end user, by way of assembling, has become not only deeply invested in the design considerations of the space, but deeply invested in actually building the thing.
I’m not suggesting that we all get 100,000-sq.-ft. showrooms and try to create the design play land that they have. I do think that we should step back and think of even more innovative ways we can get our clients more involved and invested in design.
How can you do this? Perhaps host a cooking or wine event in your showroom. Make a fun afternoon out of picking out granite. Maybe you could do a “kitchen tour” or architecture tour a few times a year to get customers interested.
PUSHING THE TECH
IKEA is ahead of the curve in other tech aspects as well. IKEA was one of the first lighting retailers to abandon incandescent light bulbs. For years before they were commonplace, they sold only LED lights. That’s about as techy as IKEA got…until recently.
Realizing that many consumers want their homes to work more like their smartphones, IKEA has gotten into the smart home game. It recently announced a line of smart home products, starting with smart lights. These are lights that can be controlled by wireless switches. The color temperature can be changed and the lights can also be controlled with your phone.
In typical IKEA fashion, these are inexpensive to own, easy to setup and, by all accounts, a delight to use. People clearly want this tech, but right now it’s not that approachable or even available. IKEA is going to change that.
Just like it changed the direction of good, modern design, it’ll do the same for people’s demand for technology in the home.
I believe this absolutely validates the coming consumer demand for this technology. But what is IKEA really selling here? Technology? No, it’s selling a solution. IKEA is selling something that a customer will interact with, and be delighted by every time they remember they can turn the lights off or lock their doors when they’re away.
As designers, we can be a part of that delight and that solution as well. I encourage you all to head down to your local big box electronics retailer and get a smart home device. Get it home, try it. Whatever you think of it, know that the demand is coming for this stuff. If you’re going to be a design “solutions and experience” provider, you’re going to need to learn as much as you can about this stuff soon! ▪