Not long ago, I wrote about the new, radically different strategy that Ikea had just announced. And I made a little joke:  

"Pretty much everything is going to change. Except maybe the meatballs."

It turns out I was wrong. Even the meatballs are affected.

Exhibit A is the brand new Ikea store opening today at 10 a.m. in New York City, at 999 Third Avenue. That's about four blocks east of the southwest corner of Central Park, in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate in the United States.

So, you might well be asking yourself: How did Ikea manage to find a massive, 200,000-square-foot retail location plus parking there? It's by far the most densely packed real estate in the United States.

Ah, there's the first sign of what's different. This is an Ikea like no Ikea you've ever been in before: tinier, more nondescript, and with a slightly different name ("Ikea Planning Studio").

As the real estate website Curbed reports: 

Customers will be able to browse popular products and lines while also having access to IKEA experts (by online appointment) for help with designing spaces and planning projects. The best part for shoppers? All purchases made at the IKEA Planning Studio will be conveniently delivered (for a cost) to the customer's home.  

The whole shift reflects Ikea's worldwide understanding that the way its customers shop is changing fast. For one thing, Ikea is far more popular in urban areas than less urban ones, but its just-outside-the-city retail location strategy has never been particularly convenient.

Given the sheer number of Zipcars and Ubers at these giant blue box stores, I feel like I could have explained this to Ikea when I was outfitting my first apartment in Washington, D.C. nearly two decades ago. But here we are.

This new New York City store is the first of 30 similar ones planned in big U.S. cities. San Francisco and Washington are apparently next on the list, and it's all based on a model the company has tried in London and Moscow already. 

Among the other big differences between this new Ikea store of the future and the big box stores you've come to know and (maybe, sometimes) love:

  • Far fewer products on display.
  • Lots more space devoted to living space mockups. For example, the New York store has mock apartments with the same (tiny) dimensions as many nearby apartments.
  • Lots of on-site consultants whose job is to help guide customers to design their apartments and pick the right stuff.
  • A heavy emphasis on delivery. "[Customers] don't have to worry about taking the product on the train or walking out with lots of bags, because we can deliver it for them," Ikea COO Leontyne Green Sykes told Business Insider.
  • Encouragement to hire folks from TaskRabbit (now owned by Ikea) to come and assemble whatever needs assembling.
  • No meatballs. No cafeteria at all, actually.
  • Oh, and the number of jobs. That's a bit complicated.

On the one hand, when Ikea announced these plans last year, it immediately cut 7,500 positions worldwide. But on the other hand, opening new locations does mean hiring at least some new workers.

This small New York store will have about 25 employees, half of them new hires and half coming from other stores. It's not exactly going to replace the Amazon HQ2 project, of course. But new jobs are new jobs.

At one point, Ikea apparently toyed with the idea of just selling all its products on Amazon. But this seems like a medium strategy--and frankly a better thought out one: changing the stores, but also changing the way Ikea's best and most likely customers think about them worldwide.

"We see of course that the world around us is changing, and we want to be part of that." Tolga Oncu, Ikea's head of retail, said in an interview last fall, adding: "We do it because we want to secure Ikea for the future."

Published on: Apr 15, 2019
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