If you no longer need your Billy bookcase or Mörbylånga table, Ikea might buy it from you. The company is launching a new buyback service in the U.S., beginning with a pilot at a store near its North American headquarters in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, where used products will be resold.
It’s one step in the company’s ambitious goals to become circular and carbon positive by the end of the decade. “Part of that is looking at opportunities and services to really provide our customers a way to prolong the life of our products, rather than them going to landfill if they’re done with the product,” says Jennifer Keesson, the sustainability manager for Ikea Retail U.S.
Ikea has already started rolling out the service in other countries, from the U.K. to Singapore. When someone wants to sell an item, they fill out a form online and indicate the condition, and Ikea offers an estimate of how much it can pay. (The option is limited to certain types of furniture, including bookcases, desks, chairs without upholstery, and a handful of other categories.) When the customer brings the furniture to the store, an employee will verify the condition and then give a store credit. If the item doesn’t qualify for resale, the customer can either take it home or Ikea can help dispose of it in “the most responsible way the local infrastructure will allow,” Keesson says.
After the company takes back an item, someone from its “recovery department” will make any updates needed to make sure that it’s safe to resell, but won’t try to improve any cosmetic flaws. The used furniture will end up in the store’s as-is department, clearly marked to distinguish it from items that were store displays or regular returns.
Of course, people already have the option of finding a second life for old sofas on platforms like Craigslist or Facebook. But because some people might rather go to a store than pick up furniture at a stranger’s apartment, the new service could help keep more items out of the landfill.
The pilot at the Pennsylvania store will help Ikea determine what might need to be tweaked in the process. One challenge, for example, could be the fact that the furniture needs to be brought to the store fully assembled (because products can get damaged when taken apart and reassembled), and some people might not easily be able to transport something large. As Ikea’s product designers work to redesign items that are better suited for the circular economy, they’ll be considering factors like this.
When the company later rolls out the service at other Ikea stores in the U.S., it will also have to navigate local regulations about secondhand sales that were originally aimed at pawnshops, which require things like keeping items for a week before they can be resold or fingerprinting all employees who work with secondhand goods. (Ikea chose the pilot location partially because of a lack of these regulations).
“This is a journey and a transformation for everyone,” Keesson says. “Not only the retailers but customers, policy, the government.”