IKEA, the furniture retailer, is planning more city centre stores and planning studios as its experiment with smaller retail formats has succeeded in attracting consumers and boosting online sales.

“We opened more city stores than flagship stores for the first time last year,” said Jesper Brodin, chief executive of Ingka Group, the holding company that controls most IKEA outlets.

The retailer opened nine planning studios and two smaller city-centre stores (in Paris and Moscow) in 2018, the Financial Times reported, with the latter proving particularly successful.

Some 1.3m people visited the La Madeleine shop in Paris during the first five months of the year, the retailer reported, with sales almost at the same level as a traditional “big box” location. Similar stores are planned for Copenhagen, Shanghai and Tokyo.

“We test anything we can dream of. We are exploring what makes sense for people in terms of physical meeting places,” Brodin told the Financial Times.

One test that had disappointed, however, was the idea of a mini-shop focused on one particular room.

Alongside these smaller retail formats, IKEA has also invested heavily in its e-commerce offer – online sales grew 43% last year – and will be rolling out a new shopping app in coming months.

It’s also trialling furniture rental for students and offering more furniture assembly services, while chief sustainability officers in each country underline its commitment to sustainable living, renewable energy and equality.

“We’re entering more new markets than we’ve ever done before,” said Torbjorn Loof, head of Inter Ikea, the owner of the Ikea brand and concept. “This is the new approach for IKEA – to be more open and test new things.”

Brodin put it differently, explaining that “we’re allowing ourselves a greater degree of entrepreneurship.

“There’s a risk of fragmentation or you might even say brand damage,” he acknowledged. “But we’re not seeing it at all like that. The speed of change and with consumers is speeding up and we need to keep up.”

Sourced from Financial Times, Reuters, Retail Gazette; additional content by WARC staff