New Ikea Store: The Future of Retail?

IKEA22

When we heard Ikea was opening its first full-size London store in 13 years, and that it would be the most sustainable Ikea store in the UK, we knew we had to check it out.

It sounded so optimistic and forward-thinking – a shining example of circular retail, with sustainability workshops for customers and eco friendly tech like solar panels, geothermal heating and a rainwater harvesting system.

But would it live up to the hype?

First impressions

Instead of the usual ‘big blue box’ store style, Ikea has incorporated its circular retail philosophy into the design, with a storefront of natural wood and glass, letting lots of light into the bright, airy entrance.

As soon as we walked in, a member of staff greeted us and pointed us in the right direction. Maybe we’re biased because we visited on the first sunny day of 2019, but the sun-filled space felt welcoming and uplifting – a great first impression.

IKEA_1

Storytelling

The PR emphasis on sustainability was echoed in store, with multiple messages projected on to walls, playing on the TVs in showrooms and hanging between products on cardboard signs.

Initially, these sustainability messages were generically inspirational e.g. ‘Find the value in waste’. But as we progressed through the showrooms towards the more trade-focused sections, it became clear that Ikea has a lot to say about sustainability.

We noticed informative displays throughout the store, highlighting Ikea’s eco friendly credentials like using recycled glass and only selling LED lighting. After a while, these displays lost their impact slightly (we didn’t see any other shoppers stopping for a closer look) but we were left with the overall impression that Ikea is, and has been for a long time, working hard to be more environmentally friendly.

We wonder if these displays would be more effective if they had an interactive element, for example letting customers touch the fluffy cotton bolls or interact with the LED light bulb display.

More impactful was a walk-through installation about upcycling, with colourful, creative products. We loved the distinctive tone of voice and typography, which were livelier and more engaging here than elsewhere in the store. It was a great example of circular retail, inspiring customers to reuse Ikea products.

Shopper experience

While Ikea has played up the sustainability factor with nature-inspired design and bold storytelling, this never gets in the way of the customer experience.

The whole store is geared towards navigation and conversion: plenty of visible, helpful staff; incredibly detailed, immersive showrooms; and touchscreens where customers can customise products, check on stock and sign up to the loyalty program.

The beginning of our journey was as inspiring as we’d hoped. But as we wandered further into the depths of the store, the magic rubbed off slightly – not all the tech worked, for example, and we felt a bit lost in the cold, cavernous warehouse.

And then we got to the tills.

One of the self-service sections was out of order, and there were long queues wherever we looked. Thanks to a problem at the till (we weren’t told what it was), our queue didn’t move for almost ten minutes.ikea_3

It felt like our journey had ended on a flat note. The queuing experience was frustrating, and the exit wasn’t as pleasant as the entrance (although there was a nice goodbye message, telling us about events Ikea is running in the area).

But while we waited at the bus stop across the road (it’s just a ten-minute bus ride to North Greenwich tube station), we realised that, overall, it is a great store. Even from outside, it looks bright and inviting. With all the natural wood, and the abundance of greenery seen through the glass, it feels like a store in harmony with its surroundings.

While not quite the ‘future of retail’ we had been hoping for, it’s an inspiring, contemporary retail experience from start to almost finish – if only those self-service tills had been working…

Author

Sean Dwyer

Thinking ‘last mile’ first

In 2019, we can shop without stopping at a checkout, chat to customer support through WhatsApp and beam a showroom sofa into our living room using AR (so far, so sci-fi). But one element of the shopper journey remains stubbornly inconvenient: the last mile.

With frictionless and on-demand shopping experiences becoming the norm, the hassle of home delivery seems like an anachronism. How much longer will shoppers put up with rushing to the Post Office after work, or waiting in for eight-hour delivery slots?

It’s time for retailers to rethink their last mile strategy, or risk being overtaken by those that have. We take a look at the brands responding with bold thinking, plus some last mile thoughts of our own.

LastMile_1

The gift of convenience
When it comes to clever last mile solutions, the gifting industry is leading the way – all thanks to the humble letterbox. Brands like Petal Post in Australia and Garçon Wines in the UK have created new letterbox-sized packaging for classic gifts, while others have rebranded products already the perfect shape to post (see Irish chocolate bar specialists, Sweet Post.)

These brands give gift-buyers the convenience and security they crave. Now the shopping, wrapping and posting can all be done on an app in seconds, with a notification when the gift has been delivered.

Of course some products will never fit through a letterbox, no matter how inventive the packaging. The real takeout here is the creative approach to delivery, which all kinds of retailers can embrace.

prime air 2

The trouble with drones
Amazon has been the most prolific when it comes to rethinking the last mile. In 2016, it launched a drone delivery service, promising that ‘One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.’

It was a headline-grabbing announcement, but Amazon has since gone quiet on the drone front. Perhaps it’s being cautious after a spate of bad press (who could forget the Christmas chaos at Gatwick?), or maybe it’s still grappling with government regulations all over the world. In any case, Amazon has been focusing on other technologies that are just as innovative – and just as newsworthy…

scout

The rise of the robots
…which bring us to Amazon Key. Launched in 2017, it works with a smart lock and camera to give delivery workers access to your home, or the boot of your car. While it negates the age-old problem of having to wait in for parcels, its success relies on a change of thinking from customers… are we ready to let strangers into our homes?

Then there’s Amazon Scout, a pavement-roving robot that navigates itself around the city. Although the idea seems amazingly futuristic, Amazon is actually behind the curve on this. While Scout is currently only available in one suburb near Seattle, more established companies already have fleets of delivering robots on the streets – and they’re going global.

Since 2014 and 2015 respectively, Starship and Marble have been rolling out bots across the United States, the UK and Germany. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be used to deliver larger items (rush hour is busy enough without sofa-sized robots joining the fracas), but they’re proving successful in the grocery and takeaway sectors.

The big question is: how would the public and robots coexist? Would the bots be secure from theft and vandalism, for example? If the failure of communal bike schemes in European cities is anything to go by (too many unattended bikes were stolen or smashed up), perhaps not.

The future of delivery
The potential of these new technologies is exciting, but we’ve a long way to go before they become widespread; a more immediate fix would be to improve existing logistics.

Could retailers club together to put depots in every neighbourhood, filled with lockers accessed by a unique code? What if online retailers partnered with local takeaways to offer a late-night delivery service?

With bold, outside-the-box thinking, who knows what the future of delivery looks like? One thing’s for certain: retailers need to put convenient delivery at the heart of their business. Because while we call it the last mile, it could be the first barrier that stops a shopper from making a purchase.

Author

Sean Dwyer

< PreviousNext >