A homegrown hero, IKEA needs no introduction. From their Swedish beginnings in 1943 they’ve become a global leader, now operating across 62 countries.1 But each market has its own unique challenges, particularly when it comes to something as complex as omnichannel.
In Google and Pattern’s recent Better Omnichannel Customer Experience (BOX) research, IKEA performed exceptionally well, landing in the Top 3 of each Northern European market assessed. Moreover, they were the most improved retailer from the last BOX study in 2019.
So what are their secrets? And how have they ensured such consistent improvement across multiple markets? We spoke with Karen Helweg, chief digital officer at IKEA Denmark, and Grégory Bauduin, country marketing manager at IKEA Belgium, to understand how their local approaches in a global company have unlocked success.
Grégory 🇧🇪: When it comes to digital shopping, Belgians were slower to adopt than our Danish friends or Dutch neighbours. They still really like to shop in-store and see the products, which meant we initially didn’t have the same urge as other markets to accelerate our digital maturity.
But that’s changed in recent years. In 2017, we launched our e-commerce channel in French and Flemish, expanding to Luxembourg two years later. The shift to digital during COVID meant Belgians had no choice but to embrace our online channels – we doubled them – and therefore they made a big jump.
Grégory 🇧🇪: Belgian customers love the IKEA experience and the fun day out that comes with visiting our store. And with eight stores spread across the country, Belgians are never more than 30 minutes away from their nearest IKEA. Still, 67% of our local customers go online to research products or check stock availability before coming in. In fact, we have one of the highest research online, purchase offline (ROPO) rates.
But shopping journeys can be different depending on the item someone is looking to buy. Where kitchens require a lot of research and online planning, home accessories can be bought on a whim when shopping in-store. We have to be prepared for all scenarios, and offer solutions to smoothen our customer’s specific journey. For example, customers wanting to buy a kitchen can use an online planning service with one of our co-workers to enhance and prepare their in-store visit – or if they wish, replace it altogether.
Grégory 🇧🇪: Online and offline channels should reinforce each other – but never compete. We try to maximise on tools that enable a hybrid journey, and ensure that we have information or support available in a way that suits our customers, whether that’s on our website, our shoppable app, or through video calls.
For example, we introduced digital kiosks in our store where omnichannel customers can browse the full IKEA Belgium website. This enables customers to find answers to their questions if they can’t locate a member of staff. Another example in this hybrid journey is our shoppable app, which is a great asset to enable our customers to better prepare their store visit and even avoid queues at the checkout if they wish.
Grégory 🇧🇪: IKEA is a big ship and every time we need to change something in our operations, it’s a big undertaking. But we need to be flexible and adapt our processes. Even in a small country like Belgium, we have eight stores and 4.5K employees. This means we can’t always make changes as quickly as we would like, so it comes down to prioritisation and working with the channels we have available.
One example is Google Business Profile. We made the strategic decision to decentralise how this is managed after we noticed that some local store details were outdated or incorrect, and some customer questions hadn’t been answered quickly enough. Having our store teams manage their own account has made a significant difference – including a high score in Google and Pattern’s Project BOX research.
Grégory 🇧🇪: We are convinced that the future of retail has to be circular. And we are working now on having a fully circular, integrated, and seamless omnichannel experience. For example on order fulfilment through EV, or further developing repair services to have longer product life cycles.
We have a solid 'buy back and resell' service, buying back your current IKEA products to sell them second-hand so you can buy new furniture. These types of projects are also highly prioritised at IKEA to make that shift toward circularity happen.
And radically, we even stopped our iconic paper catalogue a couple of years ago, as we could see consumer needs evolving and we believed we could continue to inspire them through our online channels.