How IKEA assembled a global reputation

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What has been the secret to IKEA’s success?

By Isabelle Szmigin, Professor of Marketing at Birmingham Business School

It has been said that IKEA is similar to Marmite, you either love it or hate it. However I think what IKEA has done for home fashion is a little more complex than that. So as IKEA announced the death of its founder and long- time owner Ingvar Kamprad, it is appropriate to take a look at what his and IKEA’s contribution has been.

Of course, the figures speak for themselves with over 400 stores in 49 countries and with estimated retail sales of £30 billion in 2016 there is little doubt that IKEA is a global success story. Whilst we have become used to high street fashion clothing retailers such as Zara, Topshop and H&M as well as premium brands such as Burberry and Prada managing the cultural boundaries, I think that IKEA is unique in what it has achieved in terms of global reach for furniture.

What has been the secret to IKEA’s success? Well a number of things and not just the introduction of flat pack furniture which still for many falls into the ‘love it or hate it’ category. Still behind this notion was one that was perhaps much more important, the idea that furniture did not have to be taken too seriously; indeed it could be seen as a fashion item and if cheap enough this meant you could afford to have a change every now and again. I remember when I first set up home, the options for buying furniture were very limited and most items fell into what I would call ‘old fashioned and traditional’. They came with a hefty price tag, so you bought it with a view of keeping, at least until your silver wedding anniversary. Now we can all change our minds or want a refresh when we feel like it without breaking the bank. For those wanting to cheer up a rented apartment, IKEA has been ideal; colourful, functional and there was no need to worry too much if you didn’t take it all with you to your next home. Of course being part of the throwaway culture brings its own problems but IKEA has developed targets for renewable energy, recycling, waste management and ‘green’ product sourcing. Last year in the UK, IKEA reported they had achieved zero waste to landfill but of course this does not take into consideration what their consumers may send to a landfill.

If I had to say what the most important gift that IKEA has given us, it is the desire for more aesthetically pleasing items in our home, which has led to a raft of wonderful companies developing furniture both cheap and expensive, but above all like IKEA they are colourful and functional. Today, furniture is as much about fashion as any of the high street fashion stores and anyone setting up their home has an enviable array of outlets to source their interior design creations from. Though of course not all of them also sell meatballs.

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