Overview of IKEA Store Layout Strategy
According to the narrative by the company, maze-like store layout provides customers with interior design inspiration before they make a purchase, while also showing that their products are versatile. However, according to Alan Penn from the University College London, who's regarded as an expert in the area of IKEA's store design, it's a way to confuse the customers and trick them into overspending on things they don't need. Martin Albrecht, an IKEA store manager in Sweden, describes some of the tactics that the company employs in their store layouts. For instance, the main aisle has to curve every 50 feet to keep people interested. Also, they use a technique called "bulla bulla," deliberately putting piles of items in bins to give the impression of volume and low price. Additionally, the company only customizes room sets in the showroom section of its stores if the local culture requires it.
Please note that while we usually use sources from the last 24 months, I mostly used older articles for this research. Since the main concept hasn't changed, I decided it's better to choose older articles that offer more valuable insights. The issue was most talked about around 2011, when Alan Penn first shared his analysis. It's still considered applicable in up-to-date articles.
HISTORY OF THE LAYOUT
There's little information about how the company developed their layout strategy, though we can trace how various elements were added. The company was founded in 1926 by Ingvar Kamprad and operated as a mail-order business until 1958. However, the first showroom, which is still a crucial part of the display, was opened in Älmhult in 1953. Kamprad was tired of handling returns and decided to give them the opportunity to see the furniture before making a purchase while having a chance to observe them.
Five years later, the first store opened in Älmhult. It seems that it already had most sections of today's maze-like structure since there was a showroom, restaurant, playground, and storage area. The storage area became self-service in 1971. There is no information on when the market hall was added, but we can suspect that it was there from the beginning, since Kamprad's business actually started with selling small items.
As you can see, it seems that the concept developed gradually. It's probably a result of Kamprad's entrepreneurial spirit and his observations of customers' purchasing habits. Some of its elements may also be a direct result of his focus on reducing the costs. Please note that a more detailed historical perspective may be available in Swedish sources. However, using a translator offers limited possibilities and I wasn't able to gather any valuable insights with this tactic.
I also found pictures from the first British store, which were taken about 30 years ago. You can see that the concept stayed nearly the same throughout the years.
OFFICIAL STATEMENTS ABOUT THE MAZE-LIKE LAYOUT
According to the company's spokesperson, their store layout strategy was chosen as the most efficient way to showcase their products. Their furniture and accessories are versatile, and they want people to see them on different displays, while also giving them ideas on how to use them in their own homes. Additionally, IKEA emphasizes that from the beginning, a trip to their store provided families with the opportunity to spend quality time. The way that the stores are structured, with a showroom, restaurant, and playground, can also serve this purpose.
EXPERT ANALYSIS OF THE LAYOUT
However, Alan Penn, director of the Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment at University College London, doesn't believe this narrative. He thinks that IKEA's store layout strategy is a clever way to confuse the customers and make them overspend on items they don't need and didn't plan to buy.
He explains that when people see something they are even moderately interested in, they tend to put it in their basket right away because they know they won't be able to go back and find it later. Also, customers feel that their compulsive purchases in the market hall section are justified, after spending so much time walking through the store. He even created a heat map that shows where people buy most unnecessary items in a typical IKEA store. According to his estimations, around 60% of purchases are items that people didn't plan to buy.
His analysis of IKEA's store layout was cited by major media sites, such as Business Insider, The New Yorker, and The Guardian. His views are seconded by Johan Stenebo, ex-senior manager at IKEA and the author of "The Truth about IKEA." According to him, the store layout is "as if IKEA grabs you by the hand and consciously guides you through the store in order to make you buy as much as possible.” Martin Albrecht, store manager in Hylle (Sweden), further confirms this opinion in an unofficial interview. He says that add-ons in the showroom section are for unplanned purchases, while the whole market hall section should be called "open the wallet" section.
OTHER INSIGHTS ABOUT THE STORE LAYOUT
Martin Albrecht also provides interesting insights into IKEA's store layout strategy. For example, he mentions that customers should always see a bin of shopping bags. Additionally, he explains the "bulla bulla" technique used by the company. They deliberately put piles of items in large bins to give customers the impression of volume and low price, thus influencing the purchase decision.
He also mentions that the maze-like design is essential in keeping the customers interested. The main aisle has to curve every 50 feet to keep people guessing what they will see next and make them excited about the items they encounter. However, he admits that there are doors that lead to shortcuts, which are reserved for core customers. In theory, anyone could use them, but they are extremely difficult to spot.
Another employee explains that the company tries to keep the store layout as universal as possible, but some regions require more adjustments to their culture and habits. "We say we need to be as global as possible and as local as necessary," he concludes. An example of this would be China, where IKEA had to design smaller room sets with balconies.
In conclusion, the company claims that the maze-like store layout of most IKEA stores provides customers with interior design inspiration before they make a purchase, while also being the most efficient way to show the company's versatile products. However, some of the employees and analysts believe that IKEA's store design is actually a way to confuse the customers and make them overspend on items they didn't plan to buy. Martin Albrecht, store manager in Hylle, also reveals that the main aisle of a typical IKEA store curves every 50 feet to keep people interested. Additionally, he explains that the company uses the "bulla bulla" technique, putting piles of items into bins to create the impression of volume, which is associated with low price.