Ikea operates a whopping 433 stores in 52 countries. But though the world’s largest furniture retailer is wildly popular, big box stores across the board are struggling, and the mega warehouses can be tricky (and time-consuming) for customers to get to.
With this in mind, Ikea is experimenting with a new strategy that allows customers in Russia to shop—and design spaces—from the comfort of their own homes. The company’s new service—dubbed Kvartiroteka for “selection of apartments”—helps shoppers customize their homes without having to drive to a physical store. These exclusive photographs, which show different living arrangements and interior floor plans, illustrate the range of options that can be incorporated into the Russian homes.
The Swedish company has a huge fan base in Russia; according to Bloomberg, Russia is Ikea’s second-fastest-growing market. Sixty percent of Russian citizens live in virtually identical, Soviet-era apartments, which are concrete-walled, five stories high, and generally revolve around a communal floor plan that necessitates families share bathrooms and kitchens. Since these low-cost housing structures—which were initially designed to be temporary—are not only similar but also dated, Ikea is offering residents a way to incorporate their personal style into these living spaces.
The Kvartiroteka feature is encoded with 14 common Soviet-style floor plans and allows customers to create virtual makeovers for their apartments by selecting Ikea furniture and home decor—similar to playing the Sims video game. Since many of these apartments are relatively open and fairly compact, Ikea suggests pieces that maximize space—such as small dressers with deep drawers or mounted units to hang objects from—and provides actionable solutions for them to incorporate—such as installing curtain dividers or hidden shelving.
The company also has five “design studios” in select cities—Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Tyumen—where customers can meet with a consultant in person for offline design guidance.
Ikea’s Kvartiroteka feature debuted in June 2019, and it brought 2.8 million visitors to Ikea’s site in the first six months. Though it’s still building momentum in Russia, Ikea has plans to deploy it in other countries known for their communist-era architecture, such as Germany, Poland, and China.
“Many people couldn’t believe that they could do anything good out of this standard typical planning,” Pontus Erntell, head of Ikea’s Russia business, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “The idea was to show that there can be lots of different things to do and to inspire people to do something to change their lives in their homes.”
Though Ikea’s aesthetic is unfussy, user-friendly, and understated, the company’s carbon footprint is decidedly less so; in 2019, its carbon footprint was 24.9 million metric tons. Fifteen percent of this carbon creation came from customers’ trips to Ikea stores, many of which are too large to exist in city centers. In an effort to lower this percentage, Ikea introduced cargo bikes to some of its locations, which customers can borrow to transport purchases home, in lieu of driving a car.
The Kvartiroteka feature illustrates another tactic Ikea is exploring to cut its carbon footprint: encouraging its customers to design their spaces virtually and order everything online. But while this approach works well for Russia and its uniform living spaces, it might be difficult to replicate the experience in regions that have more diverse homes.