Homewares and furniture giant Ikea this week opens its first London big box in more than a decade, and a raft of innovations represents its strategy in action.

Ikea’s new Greenwich branch, close to the Millennium Dome and on the site of a former Sainsbury’s ‘eco store’, reflects not just its own millennial direction but a response to trends playing out across the whole of retail.

Store manager Helen Aylett said the 32,000 sq m branch is “a place to meet, share, learn and shop”.

The fact that ‘shop’ is the last word is representative of the shifts underway in retail, as factors such as experience and connection to community become ever more important.

As well as incorporating sustainability in design, Ikea has put it to the fore in product

The store, Ikea’s 22nd big box in the UK and its first such branch in the capital in 14 years, is the retailer’s “most sustainable” and puts the community at its heart.

As well as incorporating sustainability in design, such as the use of solar power and rainwater harvesting, Ikea has put it to the fore in product.

From vases made of recycled glass, each therefore with a unique pattern, through to the retailer’s first ‘learning lab’ where upcycling techniques are shared, and home delivery by bike, environmental considerations have taken centre stage.

Community spirit

Some of the biggest departures from the norm are evident in how Ikea has reflected community needs and desires in the store.

Ikea carried out more interviews among local consumers to find out what they wanted than it has done for any previous branch.

A roof pavilion that can be used for events ranging from yoga to meetings, a roof garden with space for people to plant what they like, and – for a big box – an atypical emphasis on natural light all reflect the findings of Ikea’s research.

More than 50% of staff come from the borough of Greenwich

Similarly, more than 50% of staff come from the borough of Greenwich and more than 70% from the wider locality.

It is a stipulation that employees, who receive the Living Wage Foundation’s recommended £10.55 per hour, do not drive to work – more than 40 buses per hour stop outside the shop.

The store, which emphasises Ikea’s service and delivery options as well as its eco-minded take-back scheme through prominent signage, also offers delivery by zero-emission electric bikes within a three-mile radius.

Ikea UK and Ireland country sustainability manager Hege Sæbjørnsen said the shop represented Ikea’s new city centre approach, reflecting the trend of urbanisation and need to cater for local communities, and complemented other related initiatives such as the smaller-format Planning Studio recently opened on London’s Tottenham Court Road.

Watch: Ikea opens doors to 'most sustainable store'