The ongoing crisis on Britain’s high streets is getting worse before it gets better. The inevitable demise of tired chains is being accelerated and independents are running out of cash. It’s a gloomy picture at the gloomiest time of the year and whilst even the smallest retailers are innovating with online offerings of some sort, it’s not the same when your actual shop is your brand experience. Anything else is just a transaction – essential, obviously – but not the same.
Topshop has finally been found out – slipping out of relevance in the shadow of an ascendent Primark. The job losses are sobering, but the brand had been abandoned long ago: by its management as much as the target consumer.
And those brands that have already failed - BHS, Maplins, Debenhams - were all empty on a Saturday, even before the pandemic. They had their fans, but they were loyal, not in love. They had already lost, and the enforced closures and disruption of 2020-21 have simply accelerated the end.
So, I’m curious, what about a retailer we really care about?
IKEA was already facing enormous challenges as consumers sought alternatives to big, out of town stores, before their shops were closed for extended periods during the national lockdowns.
They also have smart people who recognised that one part of the brand experience had passed its sell-by date.
It’s a much-loved brand. YouGov's 2019 Global Brand Health Rankings placed it at No. 7, between Amazon and Nike. Rankings were compiled based on each brand’s Index score, a measure of overall brand health calculated by taking the average of Impression, Quality, Value, Satisfaction, Recommend, and Reputation, within a given market.
Now, things have changed since the heady days of 2019. IKEA closed the innovative Coventry store last year – their first closure since arriving in the UK in 1987.
But the world seemed to spin when it was announced that 2020 would be the final edition of the printed Catalogue. Statistics abound – it was the world's most widely read catalogue with 208 million copies printed in 2011. Translated into 30 languages, it was distributed across 41 countries.
These kinds of seismic changes are precisely the sort of thing that indicate the end is nigh for less-loved brands. Desperate measures; retrenching; vague corporate-speak from a CEO who is only hanging on for a bonus before jumping ship.
But IKEA means so much more. It has created a unique brand experience that has come to define us. It’s no surprise to me that (in English, at least) IKEA rhymes with IDEA. A business that believes in the power of design. That good design is democratic. That joy can be found in the oddest place - those product names and instruction leaflets for starters.
it is facing forward with a bold alternative that elevates the brand - from core values to customer experience.
They also have smart people who recognised that one part of the brand experience had passed its sell-by date. Some say they have been slow to digital. But they have one of the most complex inventories and they weren’t prepared to make a loss on deliveries (unlike most British supermarkets), so transitioning from catalogue via the website has felt a bit painful.
During the last six months or so I have found the IKEA app to be way more than an adequate replacement for the print catalogue. It’s a brand new, vibrant and exciting expression of the IKEA experience. The AI is great, spotting viewing patterns and offering a new range of personalised magazine-like spreads each time it launches. In-image links jump to range detail and purchase seamlessly. Most importantly, the narrative consistently delivers the brand’s TOV.
With 19K reviews it achieves 4.6/5 on Apple’s App Store.
IKEA, like most retailers, is experiencing unprecedented pain at this time. Unlike others, rather than clinging desperately to the nostalgia of an ‘iconic’ feature, it is facing forward with a bold alternative that elevates the brand - from core values to customer experience.
IKEA is evolving as a brand that reflects the rapidly changing era we live in. In doing so it’s demonstrating a partnership with its customers that runs deep.