Last month Swedish home store IKEA opened it’s second Ohio location in Columbus, Ohio. Built on 33 acres of the northeastern corner of the city, the 354,000 square foot store is as much of a behemoth as any other IKEA. With more than 10,000 exclusively designed products, 41 room settings, a 450-seat restaurant (hello, meatballs), and children’s play area, our team was eager to see how this design stacked up to the rest. Here’s an exclusive look at some perspectives.
As a longtime Ikea customer of 20+ years, I’m always eager to see how the brand, the store, and the experience has evolved over the years, and how it can stay relevant to MY changing needs as I evolve through different stages of life. There has always been a reassuring consistency and predictability about my Ikea in-store shopping experiences. The inspiring room settings, the surprisingly affordable, well-designed, and sometimes quirky, products, and the playful brand messaging have been central to every trip to Ikea for me. I can always count on seeing fresh home and office ideas and an appealing “design for everyone” ethos around every corner. Being in the business of store design, I usually discover some clever visual merchandising ideas as well. The now-familiar byzantine, but functional, customer journey maze is part of the fun, once you understand the benefits. And, of course, the Swedish-flavored café always beckons for a quick mid-trip snack break. So, this well-heeled Ikea fan knows the drill and is always ready to do it one more time.
Enter Ikea Columbus. Sensing that our fair city has really entered the big leagues, I was very excited to make my first pilgrimage to the hallowed blue and yellow warehouse with its very own highway exit along with teeming throngs of other area Ikea faithful. Hoping for something new, special or even “local,” I explored every nook and well-planned cranny. I marveled at the crowd-handling techniques and the crisp signage and integrated ceiling and wall systems. But alas, I came away resigned to the fact that our Ikea is exactly just like every other Ikea on the planet. Not in a bad way of course, it’s just of like a comfortable pair of shoes.
If I have any critique of the experience, is that technology just doesn’t seem to matter to Ikea. Sadly, Ikea’s in-store tech features are just as maddening as their deeply-frustrating website. This has always perplexed me as Ikea, based in tech-friendly Scandinavia, seems to reject the idea of a seamless “omni-channel” customer experience or anything other than “just spend the entire day in our store” experience. And it’s been that way for years. Why? I’m not sure. They do so many things very well that rely on sophisticated design, manufacturing, and logistics advancement, but they can’t seem to have a kiosk that let’s me effortlessly find what I’m looking for in the showroom or the warehouse. I attempted to use the self-service screens in the kitchen planning area and, for the life of me, I could not figure out how to even start the process! Someday, this will be a bigger problem for Ikea, but for today, they just cheerfully serve up more of what they do best… good design in a bright space that makes people happy.
I have a love/hate relationship with IKEA and I always have. Always annoyed that the nearest store was a two-hour drive away and the shipping costs on items was more than a tank of gas. My husband and I would commit to the shopping excursion, because, well, we needed those giant floating shelves more than anything else in the world. Without a doubt, I’d uncover more items that I just had to have. Walking through the maze of rooms makes you feel like you’re in someone else’s space, but not in a creepy way. It’s welcoming and inspiring. With each turn you’re shown a new reveal of the latest home trend—picture perfect. After what would seem like hours, and it probably was because you stop for meatballs, I’d get home to then spend six to twelve hours assembling and hanging shelves. Then rehanging. Oye. It’s worth it when now have the coziest living room with shelves ready to hold our books, family photos, and knick knacks.
Like everyone else, I’ve been looking forward to the new Columbus location’s opening. Frankly, I thought it would be trouble. For my time and my bank account. I arrived early and watched groups of people speed walking to the entrance. Apparently that revolving door is tricky, as I watched three separate groups of 10 get caught inside the doors with no movement. A store associate was kind enough to help them make their way through safely.
Upon entering I thought to myself, “Well, it looks like IKEA. Nothing I haven’t seen before.” I was surprised by the lack of merchandise in the front entrance. Being only a week away from July 4th, I would have expected the patio furniture and entertaining options would have been front and center. Instead it was a small space apartment style area and some seating. Up the escalator you go, don’t forget your bag.
You’ll see the same directional signage and projection on the floor you’re used to. I wish there was a little more storytelling with their communications in individual rooms. Maybe they feel the spaces speak for themselves, but I wanted to learn about the artists more. Sure they had stories set up, next to the “Design For Everyone” signs, but it felt repetitive rather than inspiring. The rooms all felt nice and curated, though, a bit more messy–or “lived in” than I would prefer. If I’m dreaming of remodeling my kitchen and looking to spend a pretty penny, it needs to be organized and collected.
It’s summer time, and even though this store just opened this month, it seems this IKEA has been worked over by families. Moms pushing strollers and chatting with friends. Mom and Dads looking for a new couch or bedroom set and the kids are still entertained too. While I was browsing I was dodging kids jumping on beds, hiding in the window curtains, and playing house at dining tables. At times I was overwhelmed and would avoid areas so I could get in front of families so I could get to rooms before they did. I also noticed groups of women coming in pairs or threes to enjoy a day of shopping, grabbing a bite, and continued on the expedition. I wanted to join them so badly.
As I moved from room to room, I found myself noticing the same furniture pieces or accents over and over. Except in different ways. If I didn’t like it in one room, and I saw it again in another 20 minutes later, it changed my perspective. IKEA does a great job at showcasing how all their products could work for a wide array of customers with different styles. Though that yellow chair was not my favorite in the office, it looked amazing in the living room–and now I can’t stop thinking about it.
Digital was lacking throughout the store. A couple screens promoting the cafe menu items and details on featured products. Maybe that’s okay. I’m all for low-tech experiences. I did enjoy the analog play spots for children, but I didn’t see anyone playing with it. Too busy bed jumping, I suppose. The “Tell Us What You Think” buttons were fun, unexpected, and probably my favorite communication throughout the space. Though, I wonder what happens when kids just start pushing buttons?
I was so happy when we reached the Market Place. It was basically empty, calm, and organized. It was just about to hit lunchtime and people seemed to be making their way to the cafe. This is where I really did my shopping and it was on accident. This became a Target moment for me. I needed some soap dispensers, so I’ll grab them while I’m here. Then, because I couldn’t beat the price, a new cutting board and “Whoa, these wine glasses are cute!” Best part is I don’t have to assemble a thing… this time.
To be quite honest, I got bored during my trip. It’s never happened before, but maybe I wasn’t on a mission as I usually am. Or maybe, I didn’t have to commit to buying anything now that they are only 20 minutes away. No added pressure that I’m leaving something behind that I could really use. As it turns out, I now need two extra wine glasses, so I’ll be making the trip again. Who knows what I’ll find this time.
From a 30-something perspective, I think IKEA does a pretty good job of having a lot of the stuff I need. Although at this point in my life, I find myself choosing the OXO brand kitchen gadgets over IKEA, and I know what furniture pieces to invest in, and what items I like from what stores. IKEA doesn’t have the same glow as it did in my 20’s, but it still has the element of discovery and inspiration. My 20th or so trip to the store, however (they’re largely all the same) finds me wanting something more…. something extravagant or more interactive.
Overall, I think the vignettes do a good job capturing the breadth of lifestyles in the Central Ohio region, but I’d be curious if this was on purpose, or just fit into the general methodology of every Ikea across the world. Beyond the nods to lifestyles, there wasn’t much that was “local” about this location. I’m not sure I even saw the word “Columbus” or “Ohio” anywhere except the receipt. Its clear IKEA definitely has a formula for store design, but I wonder if it’s getting tired? With more locations and being more geographically accessible to more people than ever before, do the design elements need to change more frequently and accurately reflect the communities they serve?
Too much information or the lack of it was a conflict throughout the store. The fabric swatches for furniture and signage describing paint finishes and flooring were helpful unexpected details presented upfront. On the other hand, product-pricing pages were a little overwhelming.
Clipboard style graphic holders were cleverly used to showcase the product photography, but the missing graphics noticeably stood out. Another graphic prominently displayed was the “Design for Everyone” graphic, which was repeated throughout the space. While the statement was clear, it lacked the supporting story about the brand’s passion for democratic design—making beautiful and functional products for the many and not the few. Illustrated wall graphics were charming and a nice change from the lifestyle imagery.
With expectations to draw customers in from all over the region it could be a good thing for retail, but definitely signal new competition for some. We’ll see if this all day destination coverts the convenience shoppers of Columbus for more frequent trips.