How does a mega-company like it? Ikea preparation for the future? By talking: with ‘consumers’, with cities and with all countries in the world. The Swedish icon is now opening up radically, perhaps the biggest change in its history. Ikea even hopes to become a bit of Lego, says head of creative staff Marcus Engman to RetailDetail.
A moment with 250,000 people
If I wanted a ride in the heart of Ikea? They did not have to ask twice, because the Swedish retailer had been at the top of my list for years as a forerunner and pioneer in ‘the future of shopping’. The reason was H22 City Expo, which takes place in Helsingborg until 3 July. Under the motto “the making of a smarter city”, it became a co-creation story with an entire city.
People of all kinds live in a city. How do you achieve that, how do you get people to think? And how do you bring this to the rest of the world? To this end, Ikea launched a global dialogue with more than 250,000 people in more than 30 countries’ “consumers” to talk about the future. Some of these life stories can be discovered at ÖGONBLICK, an exhibition about real people in a renovated warehouse in the city.
By speaking, thousands of people showed parts of their lives. In some parts of the world, families live together for generations. But how does it work? Living alone was also made aware, as e.g. one third of the population of Belgium is single. Loneliness quickly lurks around the corner as cities grow. At Ikea, we believe that in the future we will live in smaller rooms.
Change starts at home
The goal: to explore the future of life at home. With a month full of events, workshops, performances and demos, Ikea will explore how the relationship between people and their homes has developed and show how it is possible to create a better everyday life. Later, the furniture store chain also wants to bring similar local initiatives and activities to other markets.
Ikea has been adjusting its thinking for some time: Instead of a top-down approach, with the well-known segmentation of consumers into superficial profiles such as age, gender and income level, they have started a lifestyle path. Change starts with yourself, Ikea must have thought so too. It was an exciting journey, which I have also written in our brand new book The Future of Shopping: Reset Re-made Re-tail extensive consequence.
How can a mega-company keep its finger on the pulse of a rapidly changing world? How can you get a realistic picture from Sweden of how people live in, for example, Tokyo or India? We consulted the most creative person at Ikea: Chief Creative Officer Marcus Engman.
Marcus, we have entered the age of man. We need more and more of everything: more energy, more cars, more raw materials … How does it fit into Ikea’s sustainability history?
ME: “We at Ikea want to take responsibility. I think we all need to be so much more aware of everything we do, because after all, it’s about people’s lives. People may not see it, but Ikea is on a constant quest to keep prices low in a sustainable and efficient way.
Without even knowing it, we were pretty sustainable even in the 1960s. We hate waste: We manufacture and design our products with as little waste as possible. We also hate moving air. Hence our well-known flat packs: 0% air, a masterpiece of technique and efficiency!
In a world where raw materials are becoming scarce, we really need to keep thinking to make it even better. Waste must no longer be waste, but rather the raw material of the future.
Landfills must become the new gold mines of resources. We need to go for circularity, and Ikea wants to be a forerunner in this. Although we want to maintain our low-cost philosophy, we need to move towards a new kind of system where we stimulate as much product recycling as possible. ”
With H22 City Expo, you think about life in the cities of the future. What does your ideal city look like?
ME: “Megacities must do everything they can to become resource generators and create green meeting places through which people find ways to connect with each other. Medium-sized cities, on the other hand, have more opportunities to bring nature closer to people, something that is very important to people.
Talking to people has also taught me a lot about social demography and the many subtypes of social cohorts. We spend a lot of time on that because it is so relevant. For example, we see that there are 45 different types of students. Thanks to the new media, we can also reach all these different types of people more easily than in the mass media era. We group lifestyles, for example surfers, that we reach through social media. Then the communication becomes much more interesting because it is also more personal.
So there is no one kind of ideal city, just as no two consumers or two markets are alike. Our product development is therefore informed by all countries, so we know which things work where. If we want to develop something new, we start from the ‘toughest’, most demanding country with the strictest rules and culture. It used to be Japan, now China. If it works there, it will be fine for the rest of the world. Although it sometimes takes 3 years to get a product in the shops, if we make children’s furniture, for example, it must be the safest furniture in the world. ”
Doing more for the local community is also the purpose of DM, your urban farm project. Why the hell does Ikea start an urban farm and vegetable market in a godforsaken neighborhood in Helsingborg?
ME: “DM stands for Do More and is a new concept from Ingka Group to connect with the neighborhood. Ikea is trying to get close to people, even with people we would otherwise have a hard time reaching. Food is often the driving force for connection, and therefore we in Drottninghög, a socially disadvantaged area in the northeastern part of Helsingborg, have set up a first multifunctional marketplace with pop-up shops, markets, an urban farm, a food court, events, school activities and a place to meet.
During our conversations, we noticed that there are an incredible number of talents, but the people who live there are, for various reasons, far away from the local labor market. Through DM we can meet them and explain that we have good jobs. We use DM as a springboard for employment, employment and the promotion of self-employment. Thanks to these initiatives, we have already been able to recruit around 50 new employees.
What is the big difference with Atelier100 in London?
ME: “We also want to track as much talent as possible in London with Atelier100, a unique store in collaboration with H&M, where creative entrepreneurs can offer their creations. DM goes even further and is a real meeting place for the neighborhood.
Atelier100 is exclusively focused on creative disciplines because we need a lot of creativity for the future. We are doing this for the first time together with H&M, because we not only share many values, but also the same challenges: finding local creative talent. ”
Is this learning to work together and open up for the great change of the future?
ME: “Within Ikea, I think the biggest change is that we have moved from top-down to bottom-up thinking. The realization has come that what is important to us is also important to the world, so let’s go for it together. There have been many of the big changes along the way, and more are on the way.
Circular work, for example, is not just about recycling materials, because it costs a lot of energy. Based on the new collaboration idea, we could think in the direction of components, as with Lego. We have been making products with several components in our database for 80 years. Many of these can be recycled flexibly. If we manage to use a fixed pool of components, we can make products very efficiently. And it is precisely by being more efficient that we can diversify, just as people have diversified. ”
What do you learn most from, Marcus?
ME: “From my three children and grandchildren. They still think indefinitely without reservation. That attitude we must embrace and pass on in order to remain creative. They are the teachers of tomorrow.
In addition to talking to people, Ikea has also set up some notable projects. For example, the Space10 innovation laboratory is located in the heart of Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District and has since the end of 2015 been a focal point for designers, researchers, designers, artists and everyone else who is interested in the questions the laboratory aims to answer.
The C40 is a collaboration between 40 of the world’s largest cities, such as Chicago, Paris and Montreal. They share their experiences and insights to create more sustainable cities for the future. ”
You can read all about the living laboratories and test laboratories at Ikea in the next article in this series about the Swedish furniture retailer’s H22 City Expo.