Can IKEA’s store layout still amaze without a maze?

Photo: @Dari via Twenty20
Aug 30, 2021

Customers have long associated IKEA with the experience with traversing a labyrinth of furniture and home décor, and often walking out with more than they anticipated because of it. Now IKEA may be ditching the maze in favor of a layout it considers to be even more immersive.

A test IKEA store concept in Shanghai, China will feature spaces for customers to lounge around and relax, hang out with social media influencers, take selfies and even participate in workshops where they can make and repair products, according to The Guardian.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Shanghai location includes cushioned, theater-like space, a restaurant that showcases sustainable food practices and a “Maker’s Hub” where staff help customers repair old and build new items, alongside showrooms and a shop for small items.

The Shanghai store will represent the second test of this store concept, which was also introduced in Poland. Last week, IKEA also opened a compact store in Vienna designed for urban markets comprising five stories and a rooftop café.

The Journal wrote, “Its new store formats aim to do more than entertain by combining a more sophisticated e-commerce offering and typical showrooms with spaces that invite customers to linger and think more about home furnishings than they did previously.

Stefan Vanoverbeke, IKEA’s global deputy retail manager, told the WSJ, “I’m convinced that if we do our job in a good way, we’ll make home furnishing more important for people.”

IKEA has piloted other store concepts in recent years that have shifted their look and feel away from that of its iconic big box.

In early 2021, the chain opened its first stateside small-format store according to BizJournals. The store, located in Queens, New York City, is half the size of a traditional IKEA store and features a product line meant to appeal specifically to urbanites. Before the launch of the U.S. store, IKEA experimented with a similar concept in London.

IKEA opened a planning studio on New York City’s Upper East Side as well. The store has no stock and can be visited primarily by appointment with limited walk-in visits allowed.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the “maze” aspect of IKEA an advantage or a disadvantage at this point in the chain’s evolution? Do you think stores with more social components are a good move for IKEA or will moving away from the “arrow path” and maze-like layout damage the brand?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"While IKEA’s maze store layout approach has served it well for decades, I applaud the company for experimenting with new concepts for their stores. "
"I know that some people are not fans of the maze but that maze is so unique to IKEA it’s almost as important as the Swedish meatballs."
"Weird IKEA note: Did you know that it’s a big spot for a first date? Wandering through the maze is part of the get-to-know-you process..."

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25 Comments on "Can IKEA’s store layout still amaze without a maze?"

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Neil Saunders

The maze aspect of IKEA is an advantage — for IKEA. It prolongs visit times (though there are “hidden” shortcuts) and exposes customers to more product so it affords more opportunities for impulse purchasing. Many of those on a big furniture shopping mission don’t mind too much. However others on more focused trips dislike it. The format was designed in a different era so it’s hardly surprising IKEA is testing to update it to something more relevant. As for smaller stores, these are critical for reach and for expanding omnichannel services such as click and collect.

David Naumann

I am not sure many customers have been a fan of IKEA’s maze-like layout, so it won’t be missed. In fact, I have met people that don’t go to IKEA stores because of the maze and only order online. Creating more immersive experiences is a smart strategy for IKEA. The ability to actively and efficiently seek out the areas of most interest in IKEA stores will be welcomed by customers.

Ryan Rosche

In order for IKEA to scale down from 300,000 square feet into smaller scale formats, ditching forced flow is absolutely the way to go. Doing this is a sign that they are aware of the need to provide new customer experiences and take risks.

Adrian Weidmann

Staying stagnant in these turbulent times is a death knell. IKEA is evolving and testing experiences that further engage their customers. Any time you can keep shoppers in the store longer, more items will find their way into baskets. New experiential methods can offset the trend towards smaller stores.

Mark Ryski

While IKEA’s maze store layout approach has served it well for decades, I applaud the company for experimenting with new concepts for their stores. While it’s difficult to predict which new layout concepts will resonate with shoppers most, what seems clear is that shoppers are getting tired of the massive maze layout IKEA has used as a mainstay.

Ken Morris

The immersive concepts that IKEA is testing in China and Poland are good ideas and are likely to fit well with the IKEA brand. Building IKEA items is part of the IKEA experience, so why not turn it into edutainment, too? The restaurants and day care have been key to IKEA’s success.

I think the maze, however, is a bit long in the tooth. They need a new concept as there is nothing more frustrating than being caught in the Overlook Hotel-like maze when you want to shop and not browse. Ditching the one way blue-and-yellow-brick road will actually free IKEA up to do some much more engaging merchandising.

DeAnn Campbell

The maze layout was designed pre-internet as a brick and mortar version of how we browse online today, so IKEA was long overdue for an update. The success of their urban formats and test stores only confirms that shoppers use IKEA’s stores to test drive what they have already searched online. Allowing people to experience the product in the context of a home, to have in-store social media interactions and learn about the product at a level deeper than possible digitally is absolutely the right thing to do.

Suresh Chaganti

I have less of a problem with IKEA’s store layout. You know what you are getting into, and part of the fun is the discovery. The new format is not intended to accelerate the time it takes to traverse to the checkout.

At least in the U.S., IKEA has a problem with installation. While many IKEA products are DIY, going to the core ethos of IKEA, categories like kitchen cabinets, appliances, and bedroom closets are not. I have shopped IKEA over years, and the installation process is completely broken. These are lucrative categories, and IKEA needs to pay attention to them before prioritizing the in-store experience.

Scott Norris

Likewise, I’ve never had a problem with the layout – I look forward to new discoveries around every bend, and when I need to focus on just a few items, I know the “cheat codes” to the store. My issues have been persistently on checkout staffing, where wait times can easily stretch beyond a half-hour on weekends, or during back-to-school and holiday shopping periods, and on in-stock availability, which was always a nagging problem in the Before Times but has devastated the store in the During Times. Staffing up and using scan-and-go technology can help the former; moving more global production to North America can help the latter.

Dr. Stephen Needel

I’ve always enjoyed the maze, but then I also learned the shortcuts out of it so if I wanted to move on I could. I don’t see furniture shopping as a socializing activity, so I’m not sure that having a lounge is much of a thing. Keep the interesting food, keep the amazingly large assortments (where feasible), and experiment with smaller urban formats. Don’t give up the iconic pieces.

Raj B. Shroff

I love this idea for IKEA. Maybe they looked at the appeal of RH stores and felt something different could be a success. And I agree with the other comments that IKEA should be applauded for moving beyond the maze.

Though I wonder what the downside of lingering is. Now people continue to flow through spaces and although it can seem crowded, I rarely have to wait much to sit in something. When dwell is promoted, they’ll have to figure out how best to manage traffic on busy days otherwise it might be a turn off to have too many people in an open space just lingering and relaxing, hanging out and taking selfies.

Thoughtfulness will be key in improving the experience, not damaging it. I have faith IKEA can pull it off.

Jeff Sward

If efficiency and convenience are a couple of the watchwords of today’s retail, then it’s time for the maze to go. Customers have spent enough screen time before going to the store so that they are much better informed as to what they are looking for. The maze may have made sense when a retailer could actually force a customer into a certain shopping behavior. That just doesn’t make sense any more. And the description of the new layouts sounds like the appropriate evolutionary move. There are a couple of department stores that could also be doing a little experimenting with new configurations.

Rick Watson

The maze was always crazy to me! You cannot get out of this store. I cannot spend so much time in an IKEA store, it really hurts my head. I would be more likely to go there if the stores were simpler.

But results are results. IKEA is a great global brand, and to be honest how many of these people do they really want to drive online where their costs are greater?

This could easily backfire.

Remember when J.C. Penney got rid of promotions – it’s simpler, it’s better! IKEA needs to be careful is all I’m saying. People don’t like big change.

Richard Hernandez

I like the maze layout in IKEA – it’s sort of a treasure hunt to see things I would possibly buy but never would have seen. I really don’t know about the lounging part – I have never lounged at IKEA with other social influencers, I guess I will have to try it.

Gary Sankary
Personally I think the IKEA maze has been a hindrance for sustained growth. This is especially true for lower priced and high frequency goods in departments like housewares and home decor. People don’t, in my experience, “drop in” to an IKEA when they break a spatula or need a new set of sheets. As already pointed out, while there are “shortcuts” through the store if you know where to look, when it comes to “easy to shop,” IKEA is not that. But they are successful. So on some terms, the maze works. I think the strength of IKEA is how they are able to pull together trend-right, fun collections of products at really sharp price points. The maze, with all its staging and room examples allows customers to envision those products in their homes. Or, in my case, realize that my decorating skills are terrible, and motivate me to spruce up my home with IKEA products. I believe that this new strategy builds on that strength of giving customers a “vision” of how the brand’s… Read more »
Kathleen Fischer

Creating an interactive lifestyle space should enhance the brand and encourage many customers who may not like the maze-like concept to shop more.

Jeff Hall

IKEA is a masterful retailer. The new pilot store formats convey they are confident in their unwavering focus on shopper immersion and a unique, experiential offering, while being much more nimble and responsive to today’s customer preferences. Customers won’t miss the maze, so long as the sense of discovery is maintained.

Bob Phibbs

I will be the first to admit, I am not IKEA’s customer. My one and only time I hated the rats through the maze feel of the layout. While enormously successful, I’m not sure a few tests proves they are cutting a new cloth rather than trying an experiment.

Georganne Bender

While I appreciate the space for classes, and the Makers Hub (great idea!) I’m not sure IKEA needs a place for people to lounge around and relax. They do that on the furniture anyway, and at least then they are surrounded by product.

I know that some people are not fans of the maze but that maze is so unique to IKEA it’s almost as important as the Swedish meatballs. I compare changing IKEA’s layout to changing the layout at Disney World. It’s a time honored tradition to grab a cart and walk every aisle of the store. I will be following this change with great interest!

Melissa Minkow

Clearly there’s mixed feelings towards the maze layout. Regardless of how people feel about it, the retailer is enough of a destination that people will shop there either way, so updating and optimizing the layout is a smart iteration on the brand love already built. IKEA never does anything without extensive research and strategy behind it. I’m sure this will only make the retailer more successful.

Jenn McMillen

Weird IKEA note: Did you know that it’s a big spot for a first date? Wandering through the maze is part of the get-to-know-you process, but you can also stop and hang out in the vignettes if the mood strikes or stop and eat. Low key, low pressure. Welcome to dating in these weird times!

Joel Rubinson

This retailing concept is used by them, Bed Bath & Beyond and Stew Leonards. Not sure who else does it. I have to imagine that sales are below targets if they are experimenting with an alternative format. Certainly BBB is having some troubles based on store closings. There is the first law of holes: “If you are in a hole, stop digging.” So I am guessing, if they have stopped digging, they might be in a hole.

Peter Charness

Yes, as a long term IKEA maze rat, for me it was the slow reveal of interesting ideas and usages of the products that was part of the store shop that I liked. However more “sample room settings” can take the place of some of that shopping. If you assume that people today are more into getting in and out faster, then alternative layouts make perfect sense.

David Weinand

I don’t care what their format is — unless they fix their inventory management issues, customer satisfaction will never come. I’ve wasted countless hours there, picking out components only to be notified at the END of the process that much of it is not available. Knowing ahead of time is forgivable; wasting a customer’s time is not.

Kenneth Leung

The maze is the draw, but as long as they have the mockup rooms set up with IKEA furnishing, they will be fine. The things they do with small spaces and functional furniture sold to a lot of new renters and first time apartment owners is important. Whether it is laid out in a maze or not, the rooms are the key. Remember when someone shot a soap opera without permission in IKEA a while back? LOL

"While IKEA’s maze store layout approach has served it well for decades, I applaud the company for experimenting with new concepts for their stores. "
"I know that some people are not fans of the maze but that maze is so unique to IKEA it’s almost as important as the Swedish meatballs."
"Weird IKEA note: Did you know that it’s a big spot for a first date? Wandering through the maze is part of the get-to-know-you process..."