My favourite retailer is Ikea. It such a successful business and it offers so much for companies to learn about focusing on details.

My favourite retailer is Ikea. It such a successful business and there is so much for other companies to learn from it. I’m surprised how seldom I hear people talking about all there is to admire in Ikea.

Across the globe it sells the same products, using the same successful formula.

I was once in Saudi Arabia on business. I saw an Ikea store and had to stop and look inside because I couldn’t imagine Saudis buying flatpack furniture.

It was actually very busy. Saudis in Riyadh must be different from those in Knightsbridge and Mayfair, but it was testament to Ikea’s universal appeal.

Understanding customers

Ikea understands customers and psychology better than many retailers. 

In 2009 after 50 years of using the Futura typeface, it switched to Verdana. That caused an outcry in the design community and a petition was even started to stop Ikea using it.

Six years on, was Verdana the right font to use? Yes. You can look at any PoS, packaging, advertising or catalogue and everything is so easy to read – you can tell it’s from Ikea even if it hasn’t got a logo.

Google, Facebook, Apple, Nike and the BBC are all examples of companies where design and fonts make a big difference. If a chief executive doesn’t understand that, they are not a retailer. 

Similarly, Ikea copywriting is simple and powerful. It seems to be able to use very few and just the right words. For example, the instructions on a new wireless phone charger are – “to charge, simply place your phone on the little plus sign. That’s it.”

That sounds simple, but as many people know, simplicity is hard to achieve. Assembly instructions don’t really use any words, only pictures. It makes assemble in any country much easier. If only MFI had understood that.

People speak different languages all over the world, but the Swedish model names are the same everywhere. A ‘Hemnes’ bookcase in Leeds is a ‘Hemnes’ bookcase in Riyadh or Rio.

A couple in Australia filmed themselves going round an Ikea store. The guy annoys his girlfriend with puns and uses the name of the product.

Since it was put up on August 13 it has had more than 8 million views – not bad free advertising.

And the design of Ikea products is superb; all our furniture in the Freeserve office was from Ikea. It was great quality and it looked the part.

People often moan about how they don’t like having to walk around the fixed track of an Ikea store, but it’s probably something that they actually enjoy without realising. The alternative of having to walk around a monster store not knowing where to start is unthinkable.

There are so many small things that make a difference, I recently tried a mattress and as I lay there I read a message above me about how Ikea can dispose of the old mattress.

“Retail has always been about detail, that’s what makes the difference”

Ajaz Ahmed

What a fantastic idea. What are people reading in other bed retailers as they lie there? Probably nothing, they are looking at the ceiling. What a wasted opportunity.

Who’s got the widest parking bays in retail? Ikea. I could go on, but I’ve made my point.

Retail has always been about detail, that’s what makes the difference. Unfortunately a lot of people who work in retail who are not real retailers.

Retail is not just about spreadsheets, it’s about being a shopkeeper. 

  • Ajaz Ahmed launched Freeserve and is the founder of