STOCKHOLM: Swedish retailer IKEA is radically shifting its sales strategy from its famous blue and yellow outlets on the outskirts of cities as it tests sales through big e-commerce websites, new city-centre formats, and radical digital design options.

“[This] is the biggest development in how consumers meet IKEA since the concept was founded,” Torbjörn Lööf, CEO of Inter IKEA told the Financial Times. He added that the move toward big online retailers (potentially including Amazon and Alibaba) is part of a response by the company to a decline in visitors to its traditional outlets.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the flat-pack pioneer was planning to test “open-source” design and full range town-centre showrooms as a response to changing consumer habits.

The strategy, which has a digital facet to its brick-and-mortar shift, involves trialling smaller city-centre stores, alongside ordering and pick-up points. Its latest test was a kitchen showroom in the Swedish capital’s business district.

Yet, Lööf, commenting to Reuters, added that this would not be a single strategy across territories, as it will be trying different approaches across markets. “Our customers will see new initiatives, both physical and digital,” he said.

The effect of big e-commerce’s convenience has roiled traditional retailers, with former behemoths Sears and Toys ‘R’ Us forced to declare bankruptcy.

A key feature of a more widespread retail presence might become a place for returns, as Walmart – which is attempting to compete head-on with Amazon – has hinted with the launch of its 30-second Mobile Express Returns in November.

"We recognize time has become the new currency in retail, as much as saving money," Daniel Eckhart, senior vice president of Wal-Mart Services and Digital Acceleration told CNBC. "We felt [Mobile Express Returns] was a growing expectation we needed to address, and do it well."

As for using a third-party e-commerce service, the motivation for IKEA is to keep up with broader advances. “We want to learn, and know what it is for a company like Ikea to be there. We want to find out how we could keep our identity on a third-party platform,” Lööf told the FT.

Elsewhere, IKEA will also trial open-source furniture design through a new platform, Lööf explained to Reuters. “We are launching ‘Co-Create IKEA’, a digital platform where customers will have the possibility to develop and test new products ... a bit like the open-source development within IT.”

In the next fiscal year, 22 new IKEA stores are set to open with entry in new markets, India and Latvia, in addition to new format stores, e-commerce diversification, and continuing digital innovation.

Sourced from The Financial Times, Reuters, CNBC; additional content by WARC staff