Imagine Yourself Here: Lessons from IKEA

Last weekend, a friend and I, kids in tow, were running errands at midday. We planned to drop by the farmer’s market before heading to the local IKEA, and needed to grab lunch along the way. We toyed with the idea of eating at the market, but in the end decided in favor of IKEA. Though we knew the market might offer more variety and fresh options, the lure of the IKEA cafe, with its low prices for complete, filling meals in a convenient, kid-friendly location, was tempting.

As we ate and continued shopping, I found myself thinking about the experience of visiting IKEA, and how that experience differs from most of the other stores we visit on a regular basis. IKEA thrives on offering this unique experience to their customers, and especially during the less-crowded midday hours, the store offers far more than simply a shopping trip.

IKEA is Customer-Friendly and Aware of Their Market
We enjoy taking our kids to IKEA because the store not only encourages but actively enables their presence. There are obvious family-friendly features, like their Småland childcare area, but also more subtle ones, like aisles wide enough to easily navigate strollers, bathrooms large enough to accommodate strollers and carts, unsupervised play areas in the cafe and throughout the stoor, hands-on experiences in display areas, and friendly staff. By making the shopping experience more enjoyable for parents and children, they encourage families to spend time in the store rather than trying to get through the process as quickly as possible.

In addition to the features benefiting families with small children, IKEA is very aware of their market demographic and the tools available to connect with them. In addition to the young family market, their customers tend to be young, largely urban, and very social. They reach these demographics not only through their marketing strategies and product lines but through the experience of shopping in their stores.

IKEA Makes an Aspirational Lifestyle Feel Attainable
Part of the IKEA experience involves seeing their products in spaces that feel like attainable homes. Not only do the display sets show shoppers attractive arrangements of IKEA’s products, they show them in spaces sized realistically for many of their shoppers, most of whom are living in small houses, condos, and apartments. Aspirational shopping based on ideas of a larger home wouldn’t necessarily induce shoppers to buy items now, but showing them a fully-furnished bachelor-sized display set (with information about what it would cost to purchase all the items together as well as separately) makes the aspirational feel attainable. Knowing that you can have that set-up is more likely to induce you to purchase than knowing that someone else could make it work.

Among other things, IKEA utilizes a trick known among retailers worldwide: once people pick something up, they are more likely to buy it than they are to put it down. Humans don’t like losing things they have, even if they haven’t purchased them yet! IKEA encourages shoppers to gather small items as they shop, but also to “collect” large items through the warehouse codes. Although shoppers don’t carry sofas and tables around with them as they browse, they carry the ideas of those items and how they’ll fit into their homes, which serves a similar function.

The IKEA Experience is Mutually Beneficial
Most importantly, the IKEA experience is mutually beneficial. Of course, ultimately each of these strategies is designed to encourage shoppers to buy more IKEA products, but rather than strictly pushing for purchases, IKEA has enabled shoppers to see their trips to IKEA as entertaining experiences. More than one family I know uses IKEA as an inexpensive day out in cold or rainy weather. The kids can play, the parents can get some shopping done and spend time chatting on comfy chairs in the design sets, and lunch is readily available.

Lessons from IKEA for Small Businesses
While not every business has the resources available to match these large-scale strategies, there may be ways you can adapt the ideas above for your own business. For example:

  • Engagement: Ensuring mutual benefit is an important part of any marketing plan, but is sometimes limited to the planning stage, when you consider what your market might be and how you can meet their needs. Consider revisiting that step more thoroughly: can you envision a way to encourage your potential customers to see your product or service as a vital need that you can meet?
  • Aspiration: Perhaps you have an ideal client, someone you would be eager to work with. Is that ideal client someone your customers might aspire to be? How can you help them reach that goal?
  • Action: How can you enable your clients to imagine themselves owning or utilizing your product or service? A creative display, a new spin on your product photography, or a creative testimonial structure might invite potential clients and customers to consider how your business might change their own lives.

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