Why IKEA Remains The Leader In Retail Brand Experience

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, October 14, 2016

IKEA revolutionised the furniture shopping experience when it arrived in the UK in the late 1980s. In the 1990s it continued to grow in popularity, but always managed to retain the element of coolness that originated from its Swedish heritage. While many other retailers have tried to mimic IKEA’s out-of-town approach and introduced food into the shopping experience to make it feel like more of an event, Ikea continues to innovate. It has just launched a pop-up restaurant in Shoreditch that showcases its range in a new and different way.

The retailer’s strong sense of innovation around the customer experience came across in Rufus Leonard’s recent Brand Experience Index (BXi) study. IKEA came second overall and first among the retailers. The primary drivers of that success were how well it communicated and manifested its brand promise and how well it used its store environments to engage customers in stimulating experiences. The launch of the pop-up Dining Club underscores this.

The Dining Club, like the in-store experience, provides a clear example of IKEA excelling at the elements that drive strong retail performance. It is a truly immersive environment and experience. The sharing of Swedish food culture alongside IKEA products creates an experience that engages all five senses. It builds a direct and personal connection between the customer and the brand, allowing people to receive one-on-one cooking experiences and building an emotional connection between the individual and the brand. And it brings together a group of people who are willing and excited to take part -- the kind of people who are looking for smart and cost-effective ways improve their homes.

IKEA’s pop-up club is an extension of the thinking that initially led to the in-store IKEA room sets -- making it a natural addition to the existing brand experience and therefore a nice surprise rather than a shock. Both the club and the store offer the opportunity for people to be hands-on with IKEA products and see how they work for them, as well as the ability to see products working in combination and in context. This is a very powerful way to use the already existing assets of space and products to encourage people to genuinely position the brand in their lives.

At the heart of this Dining Club concept is a show of real empathy for the everyday and prosaic challenges that can sometimes stop people from feeling confident about socialising in their homes. The brand has long stood for accessible design, providing thoughtful and sometimes beautiful ways for people to furnish and equip their homes. The Dining Club takes that idea a step further by removing the biggest barrier to anyone who wants to host and feed family and friends. By showing -- in a hands-on face-to-face way -- how easy it can be for anyone to prep great food, Ikea is once again delivering its promise of the "wonderful everyday."

Above all, The Dining Club shows IKEA’s spirit of innovation. By exploring this alternative (at least for a mainstream brand) way of engaging with customers and creating experiences, IKEA is taking a calculated and well-executed step into providing market-leading retail experiences. It has such a strong base in its brand and promise, providing the confidence to try something new and newsworthy.

It is that promise of the "wonderful everyday" that allows a concept like this to exist and work. The club shows people how to host a dinner party, without the need for "cheffy" cooking skills or luxurious spaces. It creates an environment that promotes the idea that someone can have a wonderful time with friends and family no matter what their kitchen skills and furnishings are. It promotes the idea of the "wonderful everyday" in a way that is accessible intellectually and emotionally, underscoring why IKEA is so strong at delivering a market-leading brand experience.

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