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?
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.
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.
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.
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…