IKEA didn't get to be the world's largest seller of furniture (with 400 stores and $42 billion in revenue) by ignoring customers' needs.
That's why when IKEA announces that it's making fundamental improvements to its business model, every other company--in B2C and B2B--should pay close attention to how these moves are designed to meet changing customer expectations.
Start with the September acquisition of TaskRabbit, a website platform (and app) for individuals and businesses to outsource tasks and deliveries. As The Economist reports, "Taken together with other changes introduced in recent years--such as a handful of click-and-collet sites in some city centers, home delivery and a new augmented-reality app for smartphones to help customers visualize furniture in their homes--it is clear that (IKEA) is keen to create alternatives to its vast suburban outlets."
Next, watch IKEA's announcement that it will allow customers to shop in new ways. The company recently signaled that it, in addition to offering its products on its website, it will experiment with selling furniture on third-party online sites.
IKEA is responding to three changing customer preferences that you should watch very closely, too, no matter what business you're in:
1. Convenience. As The Economist notes, "IKEA is used to people who are willing to spend time on assembly in return for low prices." But there's a new breed of customer who'd rather not spend their afternoons (and evenings, and the next day) assembling furniture--and who don't even want to leave home to go to a store in the first place. These online buyers demand instant gratification: quick, cheap delivery and open-the-box-and-use-it ease.
Your takeaway: Save customers' time as well as their money.
2. Choice. Eight in 10 Americans are now online shoppers, according to the Pew Research Center. But 64% of indicate that, all things being equal, they prefer buying from physical stores to buying online. IKEA's strategy is to give customers a choice of shopping experiences. So while the company expands e-commerce, it also plans to continue to build new stores in both established markets and in new ones like India, South America and Southeast Asia.
Your takeaway: Let customers decide how they'd like to buy your products or services.
3. Experience. Way back in the 1950s, IKEA was one of the pioneers in creating a store that's also an immersive experience. As Fortune writes, "Witness the full-size sample rooms that Ikea sets up in stores and where customers will sometimes be caught napping. The rooms play an essential, if secret role, showing consumers how to fit Ikea pieces into their lives." Customers don't just pop into an IKEA to buy a six oddly named glasses (Godis?); they spend hours snacking, shopping, playing and even napping.
Your takeaway: Don't forget to serve Swedish meatballs--or whatever treats/experiences you can provide to draw customers into your orbit.