Interiors: We learn about Ikea’s new retail strategy behind the scenes of its first store on the UK high street

 
Laura Ivill

What, no meatballs? The opening of Ikea’s first foray into the UK high street, which has just opened on Tottenham Court Road, is a new concept for the uber retailer.


The Swedish brand’s familiar blue and yellow sign now reigns over the former Multiyork site just along from Goodge Street station. It’s Ikea, but not as we know it. This store is a dedicated kitchen and storage planning studio, a one-stop-shop for when you need crucial customer service with measuring, designing and installing. This is Ikea aiming to be more than just the pile-it-high warehouse experience, including a full online delivery service that, by the end of the year, will deliver to London postcodes within 24 hours.

You can make a face-to-face appointment for a consultation in this good-looking store on Tottenham Court Road (there are no tills). In the new year, Ikea Greenwich will open a store dedicated to living more sustainably. “Greenwich will be our leading sustainable store,” says Jane Bisset, whose newly created role is to develop the London city centre business.

“All of our buildings already have solar panels to generate electricity, but Greenwich will have a roof pavilion, so you will be able to come in and see how we generate it and harvest our water.” Although Ikea currently sells solar panels (who knew?), they realise they need to “speak louder” about what they offer, and, as with the kitchen planning, take the customer through every step of the planning, design and installation of big-ticket items.


Inside the new store on Tottenham Court Road


The kitchens on show range from the simple white lacquer and dark wood that would suit most flats, around £5,000, to a stunning all-black number, around £7,000, to the easy-on-the-eye grey shaker-style in the window for around £10,000, to the working Scandi-look kitchen with island for around £11,500. It all feels contemporary, fresh and exciting, and you can order everything here, from the paint to the flooring to the tiles and kitchen accessories.

Anyone who watched the recent behind-the-scenes Ikea documentary will know that the company is big on materials research as well as design. Bisset tells me that the matt black kitchen doors are made entirely from recycled plastic bottles and that the researchers spent a long time working on the finish so that it will stay fingerprint-free. It’s an impressive selling point, and shows how a spot-lit matt black kitchen can really work.


The Soho planning studio

In this 21st-century showroom, out go the little pencils and in come tablet-style screens that tell you everything about what you’re seeing, from the colour choices to materials’ info and individual prices. Of course, you have always been able to head out to one of the warehouse stores to buy a kitchen, but it won’t be just one journey. Popping down to Tottenham Court Road is likely to be way more convenient for the two, three, four appointments you’ll need.

With high street stores struggling, customers will only come if they get something they can’t get online, which means seeing, touching and using the products and having expert staff to hand-hold, something that’s important with kitchen design. This is a trial-run for Ikea, so we’ll see if it becomes as famous for its environmentalism and customer service as they have for their flat-pack.

Ikea Planning Studio, 95 Tottenham Court Road, London W1 (ikea.com)

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