IKEA is rolling out urban stores for people who don't want to schlep to the 'burbs

Urban IKEA store in Paris
© Urban IKEA store in Paris. THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images

They are sized between the tiny Manhattan "design studio" and their standard big boxes.

Going to IKEA is a schlep if you live in the city. If you don't have a car, it is an expedition. But more and more young people are living downtown without cars, and are missing that wonderful experience of being lost in the endless aisles, or are like me and have a real aversion to it.

So now IKEA is rolling out smaller stores in urban centres where people can bounce on the sofa or bed and then have it delivered. There are already a few in Europe, and they are coming to North America. According to Josh Rubin in the Star, Toronto is getting one soon. He quotes IKEA Canada president Michael Ward:

“There are more people coming into the city. Fewer people own cars. People want to live, work and shop in a closer area, especially when you’re living in the middle of a dense city with smaller spaces and expensive rents,” said Ward of the reasons for Ikea’s urban push.

This is different than the design studio that opened in Manhattan earlier this year, which is only about 15,000 square feet. It was seen as a bridge to the online world; Katharine Schwab wrote in Fast Company:

This city center version of Ikea is part of the company’s bigger strategy to adapt to the way people actually shop–both online and in physical stores, while also appealing to a younger, urban audience that doesn’t have a car and is used to the convenience of ordering everything online.

But you couldn't actually buy anything spontaneously and take it out, which is part of the IKEA drill in that big last room with all the tchotchkes. Customers were apparently disappointed in this, but IKEA is learning on the job; the Toronto store type is much bigger at about 50,000 sq. ft. According to The Star:

Lesson learned, said Ward. At least one of the downtown stores in Toronto will have every single Ikea product on display — even if you can only take a handful of items home on the spot. The rest can be ordered for delivery. “Having that smaller store that has the full offer, I think is critical, so that people can come in and say ‘I can see everything, I can interact with everything.’ They won’t say ‘where are the bedrooms?’” Ward said.

Brooklyn Furniture is not in BrooklynBrooklyn Furniture is not in Brooklyn/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Furniture used to be bulky, heavy and expensive, and we bought it on our main streets. As I wrote a few years ago,

Good design used to be aspirational, sold in small quantities from high street stores at high prices. Until we could afford better we made do with Mom's old sofa. IKEA has brought good design to the mass market at great prices – it costs less to buy a sofa there than to hire a mover to get mom's, but it has hammered the market for the limited run, higher-end stuff that we used to aspire to. We no longer value how it is made, who built it and where our money went, we just care that it cost next to nothing.

IKEA was absolutely brilliant at capitalizing on the great suburban experiment, lowering costs by building giant stores out on cheap land next to big highways paid for by the taxpayers and letting their customers do all the work of assembly. But the shopping world is changing, as is their customer base. All those main street furniture dealers were put out of business by IKEA in the first place, leaving a big hole. I suppose we should all be grateful that they are coming downtown to fill it.

IKEA is rolling out urban stores for people who don't want to schlep to the 'burbs
They are sized between the tiny Manhattan "design studio" and their standard big boxes.

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