Thursday 22 August 2019

Ikea boss defends its warehouse stores as furniture giant steps onto high street


Ashley Armstrong

The UK boss of Ikea has defended its vast maze-like stores as it launches a high street assault following customer complaints that its shops are too far away.

The Swedish furniture giant opened a small trial store in Norwich earlier this month, which is a tenth of the size of its usual warehouses.

The company is also opening a small store in Aberdeen in the spring and is in “talks about two or three other city locations”.

“Customers’ expectations are changing and time and convenience is a lot more important to them,” Gillian Drakeford, head of Ikea in the UK, said.

“A lot of people don’t have cars and actually getting a Pax wardrobe home on the Tube or a train is quite difficult.”

Ms Drakeford refused to comment on Ikea’s current negotiations to move into BHS’s existing Oxford Street store.

The Scandinavian business is currently in talks about taking a third of the space from the department store, which is looking to exit the expensive rental terms of the famous shopping street as it attempts a turnaround under new owners.

Ms Drakeford, who has run the UK business for the past three years after a decade building the Swedish group's China business, reaffirmed here commitment to grow sales to £2bn by 2020 after posting a 11.3pc lift in revenues lift during the year.

Ikea made £1.5bn in UK sales last year as cramped City dwellers turned to the Scandinavian furniture giant for sofa-beds and the ever-popular Billy bookcases.

The Ikea boss said she was confident that Ikea’s online sales growth and the opening of a new Reading warehouse store in 2016 - its first for seven years - would propel revenue, as will potential future shop openings in Sheffield, Greenwich and Exeter over the next five years.

Ikea has had to spruce up its online business and stores after facing stiff competition from the likes of Amazon and complaints about the length of time to navigate and queue for goods instore.

"In the past, it's fair to say that customers weren't having the best experience but people still want to come to our stores for inspiration about how to make their space work," Ms Drakeford said.

“People want the physical contact with the beds and sofas or to visualise what goes where, so what we might see is people driving out to a warehouse for ideas but then doing all their planning at their local shop,” she added.

Ms Drakeford also said that British customers were increasingly shying away from designing their lounges around their television and heralded a revival in dining tables, which she said “are becoming the one area for the family to spend time together when everyone is not on some kind of tablet device”.

The furniture boss said that there was a split between the South and the North, with northern families looking for new ways to adapt their homes to having their children stay at home for longer than planned. Meanwhile, in the South, increasingly expensive properties meant that young families were having to cope in small flats with a growing brood.

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