Why I’m Both Impressed and Irritated by IKEA’s Customer Experience

Most warehouse stores such as Costco, Sam’s Club, and Home Depot have high, open ceilings and spacious, straight aisles. From just about any location within the store, you have a clear line of sight to the checkout area, exit, restrooms, and each of the main departments. 

Claustrophobia & the Customer Experience

Maybe you’ve never given much thought to the layout of a warehouse store, but for a claustrophobe like me, the airy, spacious shopping experience they deliver is a breath of fresh air. I often go to Costco just to relax, browse, and buy the best cake on planet earth!

This weekend, my family and I went to IKEA where we had a very different experience.

One could say that IKEA falls in the warehouse store category but as soon as you enter the building, you realize it has its own unique character traits.

I’m not talking about the food court that serves meatballs and hot dogs (which are fine but don’t hold a candle to a Sam’s Club hot pretzel!); I’m referring to the general layout of the store. 

The building is huge, but from the moment you enter, your line of sight is restricted to one section at a time. The ceilings are relatively low and the aisles are anything but straight, making it impossible to see the next department, not to mention the exit.

These tight spaces instantly create a sense of panic for me and my fellow sufferers of claustrophobia, but this layout is deliberate. IKEA carefully designed their stores to encourage (dare I say, enforce even?) browsing. 

IKEA’s Plan & Path

As a claustrophobe, I’m irritated by this, but as a Journey Mapper, I am intrigued and impressed. 

They have an intentional plan for what they want customers to do, they map out a path they want them to take, and they are incremental about walking them through it.

With maps, signs, and arrows projected on the floor, IKEA guides the way for customers to walk exactly where they want them to travel in order to cross paths with as many products as possible. 

As much as I hate it, it’s ingenious and effective. 

They even have a careful strategy behind what options they offer in their Food Court, how much they charge, and where it is located within the store (there are two, actually).

The video below reveals some of IKEA’s Food Court secrets (tip: if you’re visiting the IKEA in Canton, Michigan, skip the food court and hit up White Castle across the street instead).

IKEA clearly has a plan, they have a path, and there’s no question about what they want you to do. You always know where they want you to go next. 

By the way, claustrophobes aren’t the only ones annoyed by this customer experience. My wife is not claustrophobic, but we were running late to get to a family event and the winding path through the store cost us precious time (sorry, mother-in-law). 

How Clear is Your Plan and Path?

How does your customer experience compare to IKEA’s? When someone lands on your website, do they instinctively know where you want them to go and what you want them to do?

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug

If you haven’t already read it, Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, is an excellent resource about setting out a clear path on a website.

But the same is true for a retail store, restaurant, bank, hotel, or any type of business.

Companies in every sector can learn from IKEA’s example to have a clear purpose, plan, and path for their customers to take.

That’s the essence of Customer Journey Mapping and that’s why I love it. It forces you to have a purpose, make a plan, and lay out a path for everything you do.

What businesses have impressed you lately with a clear, compelling customer path?

Please leave a comment and let me know. We don’t have enough positive examples and I’d love to learn about more of them.

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