Ikea’s global sales have grown sluggish. Profits are down, as consumers ditch the company’s suburban big blue showrooms for online shopping, and the world’s largest furniture retailer needs to plan a second act. So it has started opening smaller downtown stores to entice shoppers who might not want to spend a day (and drive a minivan) just to buy a flat pack table.
Now, according to Reuters, Ikea is also launching an app that will allow shoppers to buy furniture with a few taps of the finger. It’s rolling out in Ikea’s largest markets over 2019 and will reach the United States before the end of the year. We’ve since learned that the app is being strategized, designed, and prototyped by the digital agency Work & Co.
Ikea’s app strategy thus far has been experimental and piecemeal. Ikea offers three separate apps–none of which actually allow you to buy Ikea furniture. There’s an in-store app that helps you collect barcodes as you shop, but it’s not so useful if you’re shopping at home. There’s an Ikea catalog app, but you can’t actually purchase anything from it. You have to go to Ikea’s store website to do that. Ikea also has an augmented reality app that lets you preview furniture right in your room, but that’s disconnected from the catalog or any shopping options, too. And as a result, attempting to buy Ikea products on your phone feels like a strange tease; it’s almost as if Ikea doesn’t want to make a sale.
Now, Ikea will be rolling together (almost) everything into one. One app will let you browse products, enter room dimensions for planning, preview items in AR, and yes, even purchase those items. All the in-store shopping options will work within this app, too.
On top of all that, Ikea tells us it will be introducing a feed into its new app, “which enables you to find, chose and buy fast from pictures of room sets,” an Ikea spokesperson tells Fast Company in an email. “Other examples of new and improved features are product recommendations, ratings and reviews, along with easier searching and browsing.” In other words, it will be a bona-fide, full-featured shopping app.
Ikea’s strategy seems sound. It’s also necessary for its survival. For the most part, apps are consolidating. Rather than use many tiny apps for individual purposes, consumers want alpha apps that do it all. Apps like Instagram and WeChat weave together photo sharing, texting, shopping, and more and have grown gargantuan because of it. Even Facebook is considering folding its messaging app Messenger back into its main app.
Ikea isn’t a social network, but its puzzle piece app model was decidedly dated. It doesn’t help that Ikea has been traditionally bearish on getting into e-commerce at all, and while that seems foolish in the age of Wayfair, furniture is perhaps the single category of retail that people most prefer to buy in real stores. Eighty percent of respondents to a recent poll said they preferred buying furniture in-store, whereas only 52% preferred to buy something like electronics in-store. And of course, shipping furniture is expensive–which slowed even Amazon from getting into the market until 2017.
But people buy furniture online, anyway and will likely become more comfortable doing so. Williams-Sonoma, which owns West Elm and Pottery barn, reports that 53% of its sales happen online now. That’s on par with broad retail market trends, as online purchases are taking over every category of retail. Meanwhile, mobile purchases, in particular, are taking over online sales. By 2020, half of all online purchases are expected to happen via mobile devices.
This is all to say that Ikea cannot wait any longer to release the perfect Ikea smartphone shopping experience. At this point, it’s playing catch-up to peers like Wayfair, Williams-Sonoma, and countless direct-to-consumer brands that sell sofas, mattresses, and bed frames. Ikea needs to have both an app and mobile site that allow someone to order a new couch from their couch.