I’ve written before about some of the big changes coming to IKEA.
If you’re a fan -; I am; I set up my first apartment with probably 75 percent IKEA furniture, and my daughter is literally sleeping on an IKEA bed in the bedroom above me as I write this -; you might not recognize the new “IKEA of the future.”
We’re talking about things like stores in the middle of big cities, a completely different layout and footprint, many more delivery options, and an overhaul of the workforce.
Hold that thought for a second. We’re also talking about LinkedIn.
Over the past few months, LinkedIn editor-in-chief Daniel Roth has been hosting a podcast called This is Working. While I don’t have time to listen to that many podcasts, I’ve made time for a few episodes of this one.
Who was Roth’s guest on the most recent episode -; the season finale, in fact?
It was Jesper Brodin, the CEO of IKEA, who apparently met with Roth at IKEA's new store in Manhattan. He took the time to explain IKEA’s biggest challenges, and the big changes he’s planning to make.
It’s a good interview. The top three areas of change Brodin talked about:
“Wherever you are, whenever you want, you should be able to shop online much easier,” he said. “But also even more important, you should be able to get our knowledge on storage, on good sleeping or living with kids, through digital.”
“How do you get the goods home to people also in an affordable way?” he asked rhetorically. Initiatives here include delivery availability and TaskRabbit, which IKEA acquired in 2017.
“Third thing is that we like testing anything we can dream of in how we can physically meet people in the city centers. And this place here,” he said, meaning the Manhattan location which is one of 30 city test locations worldwide, “is one of the experiments, the test labs for that future.”
The full podcast runs about 24 minutes. Like every big retailer, IKEA is trying to figure out the nexus between digital shopping and brick and mortar footprint.
And I found Brodin’s take on this particularly interesting:
Data is worth a lot. We are learning that. But a physical visit, it's amazing. It has an incredible value.
We don't subscribe to the idea that tomorrow that will not be physical meetings, but on the contrary, you have to make them better and you need to invest in the human interaction …
[F]or example, home furnishing competence. Most of us, before we sign up for a new kitchen, we want to look somebody in the eyes and say, “Is this going to be good?”
For that reason, he said that as IKEA eliminates some jobs that can be done more efficiently with automation, he hopes to retrain workers to become subject matter experts, so they can have more direct interaction with customers.
“Even when we’ve developed state of the at planning tools, people want to talk to somebody. You want to play with [the planning tools],” he said, “you might get inspired. But most people still want to interact with somebody. So we will most likely upskill people more towards becoming experts within home furnishing.”
IKEA is in an interesting position. Unlike other retailers, it wasn't struggling to an existential degree before it started making these changes. Brodin cites 76 consecutive years of growth.
But if you're running a business and thinking about how you'll have to adapt to stay relevant in the future, IKEA might well be an example worth watching.