Watch this space
Our latest store review is a bit different. Why? Well, because the store in question hasn’t opened yet, and won’t do for several weeks.
Following the news that furniture giant IKEA will soon be taking up residence in the former Multiyork store on London’s Tottenham Court Road, we decided to head out along what is arguably the best homeware destination in central London to review what’s likely to be in store when the brand’s latest site opens. And why it matters.
IKEA has always been a destination store, not somewhere you just pop in. With the focus on its new small format, this is changing. But it is polarising. For some, the whole point of IKEA is that it’s a day out – somewhere you go for a few hours and have lunch whilst you’re there. For others, it’s what they hate about it: it just takes too long. As a Londoner I love heading out to Lakeside IKEA at the weekend and wouldn’t dream of making a large purchase from them without having been to the store and seen it in person. But if I already know the product then I’d happily pop into a local store and order online for the convenience.
There is no doubt this is absolutely the perfect street in London for IKEA and its growing portfolio of smaller urban store formats. The chosen site for the store is possibly a deliberate move to make IKEA an anchor store for the road and direct footfall further north. But for me, it’s at the wrong end of Tottenham Court Road – directly neighbouring rows of pubs, bars and chain eateries, such as Franco Manca and Greggs, instead of alongside the big established names, such as Heals, West Elm and Habitat.
Heals remains a major destination store on Tottenham Court Road for home dwellers. As well as featuring design collaborations with the likes of Tom Dixon lighting, its instore café make it a bit of a ‘go to’ spot for creative types – not just a retail space to find inspiration but also a place to hang out.
Other competitor stores around on Tottenham Court Road fall into the following categories – uninspiring and dull (DFS), intimidating and quiet (Lombok) or cluttered and unorganised (Habitat). And although all certainly offer click-and-collect or home delivery options, they aren’t advertised nearly as well. Put simply, IKEA wins on all fronts.
Given the size of the proposed new IKEA store it was clear that it was never going to be a flagship in the sense of size or product offer. If the store were to simply be a replica of the Westfield Stratford that would be challenging enough. Stratford is very much a residential area. Tottenham Court Road is not. And both Tottenham Court Road and loyal IKEA customers deserve more than a glorified order and collection point.
The new Tottenham Court Road store however will reportedly specialise in kitchens and wardrobes, with “the focus very much on helping customers to plan more complex projects in the home, with the expertise and specialist support of IKEA co-workers, alongside a great service package and delivery offer,” according to IKEA London city centre market leader, Jane Bisset.
For me, opening such a store in this location is not without its dangers. Yes, there is a strong property rental market, a large number of students (thanks to the likes of UCL) and nurses working at nearby hospitals. These categories are very much the ‘IKEA customer’ – wanting cheap homeware solutions that don’t necessarily last forever. But are many of these likely to be embarking on what IKEA has identified as bigger kitchen and bathroom projects? Unlikely.
That leaves a pool of cash rich but time poor shoppers who reside and work in Zone 1. Many of these will potentially welcome a chance to avoid having to haul the entire family to an out-of-town retail park at the weekend. Will that be enough though?
On both a professional and personal level, I hope so. IKEA should be applauded for attempting to take its established retail model in a different direction. In many ways it will need to if it is to achieve sufficient differentiation from both neighbouring competitors on Tottenham Court Road, and other IKEA stores. I only hope it doesn’t mean that meatballs and 50p hotdogs are taken off the menu. I’ll be heading back in the coming weeks to find out…