What I learnt about Ux from Ikea

A few hours ago, I posted the following update to Twitter:


And that’s exactly how I felt as we were going to the Ikea. I set myself for an hour or so of being dragged around a soulless super store, trying to avoid gaggles of unruly children while their worn-out, exhausted parents tried to pick little Johnny’s new bed/desk/whatever.

But after I left, I felt a bit differently. I felt…better than I had expected I would feel.


1. Short cuts. Ikea stores are big box stores, emphasis on the big! For the first time visitor, there is a clearly defined path around the store to expose you to the myriad products the Swedish retailer offers. Great if you’re a new-comer. But this path doesn’t work if you’re an experienced Ikea goer (with an interior designer for a mother I’ve been a few times on both sides of the pond) this path won’t work for you. You’re needs are different and Ikea realises this – and gives you a different experience.

As someone who designs Web site’s information architecture, this is a great reminder that people coming to your site have different needs and are looking for different experiences – whether its from cookie based tracking or on-site profiles, we need to find a way to give them an experience tailored to their needs.

2. Innovative loss leaders. Usually grocery stores put their loss-leaders in the back of their store, making sure the customer has to pass the rest of the goods before they get to the bargain. Ikea does the same, in the form of a cheap, good quality canteen half way around the user-path. Not only does it turn Ikea into a destination, rather than a commodity, but it gives you some much needed energy for the next half of the journey.

3. Great final experience. The final experience you have isn’t of slogging your way through the massive furniture self-serve or of handing over hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The final experience is of 50 cent hot dogs or dollar cinnamon buns. They’re not great, but you go away feeling that you got a deal and, if you have kids, they forget about the hour of choosing between a seemingly infinite number of absurdly Scandinavianly (sp?!) named products and remember the little treats that they got.

It’s strange that two of the three things that I’ve mentioned about a home store aren’t the main products it sells, but the tactics used to increase the engagement with the customer. Clearly none of these would work if the product was awful and over-priced. Product comes before marketing, although marketing can, and should, influence product.

I’m not sure if the food is a profit center for Ikea, but given the economies of scale and the sheer amount they sell, I’m sure there is a small margin there.

Secondly, it seems to me that Ikea probably takes store planning very, very seriously. When I worked for GolinHarris (sorry to say they have a horrendous Flash site) in the UK, my largest client was predictive analytics software vendor, SAS. I was lucky enough to spend a half day with the Lori Schafer, CEO and founder of Marketmax, a company that SAS bought. Marketmax does some pretty incredible retail and merchandising planning and I was amazed at the level of detail you could jump into using the software. Everything can be optimized. You can always eek out some more revenue, push up your margin that little bit more.

Just like the Web.

Put the user first. Plan everything. Test everything. Optimise everything.


3 Responses to What I learnt about Ux from Ikea

  1. Ian says:

    Interesting post, I always hear people talk about the 50cents hot dog or the $1 breakfast from my co-workers & what a great deal. They talk about the cheap food, instead of how much they paid; which might lower buyers remorse & return rate.

    Great explanation & how important is the shopping experience.

  2. Phil says:

    Don’t forget the free daycare for parents. 🙂

  3. […] I’ve long been a fan of Ikea – the affordable Swedish brand that ensures an excellent user experience in its stores and that does very cool commercials here in […]

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