Hamburg is home to Ikea’s first ‘Citystore’, a new format with a smaller store footprint designed to cater to urban shoppers.

In the retail scheme of things, 194,000 sq ft is a very big store. It’s bigger than most John Lewis shops, larger than the average Currys PC World Megastore and even a very large Tesco would only just measure up to it. Yet if the store is an IKEA branch, it would be a very modest footprint size – and visitors to such a pint-sized shop might feel they have been short-changed.

Now couple that with an Ikea that is in a downtown urban location and there might be yet more head-scratching. Ikea stores are posited on the notion of vast footprints and edge-of-town locations where parking, store space and communications are all easy compared with city centres.

Since the end of June however, that seemingly set-in-stone Ikea template has been altered.

In Hamburg, Germany’s second most affluent city after Munich, there are already two branches of Ikea and both conform to the retailer’s norms.

Now there is a third store, in the city’s suburban Altona district. This is the Ikea Citystore, a shop that is still large, but which has been adapted to reflect the needs and requirements of an urban population, instead of those who arrive and leave in their cars from a very large surrounding catchment area.

Unlike bigger Ikea stores, it is likely to be approached in many different ways, not just by car. Indeed, emerge from the Altona S-Bahn station and a series of brightly coloured posters announce Hej Nachbarn – which fans of the TV show Borgen  will recognise is a Danish-German conflation that translates as ‘Hello Neighbour’. And the somewhat run-down pedestrianised shopping street (among its more vibrant denizens is a value-led development whose logo translates as Price Oasis) means that Ikea shines like a beacon in the distance.

If it were laid out on one or two floors, like many Ikea stores, it would still occupy a large area. As things are, the footprint may be substantial, but it does not overwhelm, thanks to it being arranged over three floors. On the exterior, the Citystore has windows around large parts of its ground and first floors. That means high levels of natural daylight penetrate the interior and the store presents a heavily visually merchandised face to passing shoppers.

Open-sided wooden packing crates, each of which contain an item of Ikea merchandise and which are internally lit, are the result of this visual merchandising push and once more the Hej Nachbarn slogan is in evidence, as is the legend plastered on the windows: Wir sind fertig! (We are ready!).

Clearly, this is about blending in with the locals and being user-friendly. Whether that is actually achieved is open to debate – this is, by some distance, the biggest shop in the area, although it does house only 60% of the assortment that a shopper would find in a normal Ikea.

Ikea ‘CityStore’, Altona, Hamburg

Status: A smaller urban version of an Ikea store

Size: 194,000 sq ft

Number of floors: Three

Design highlights: Natural daylight and packing crate displays

Opened: June 30, 2014

Project cost: E80m (£63.8m)

Total Ikea stores in Hamburg: Three

Urban emphasis

Head indoors and it is immediately apparent that this is not a conventional Ikea. The first things that greets the shopper are signs proclaiming that stock bought in the store can be taken home in a large number of different ways. There’s an emphasis on methods that do not involve resorting to an internal combustion engine.

For those who feel so inclined, bicycles with large integrated carrying platforms on their fronts can be borrowed from the store in order to get purchases home. Alternatively there are cycle couriers who will perform the same function.

If all else fails, there are van delivery services or shoppers can use the car parks at the back of the store. That might make it sound as though this is a standard big-box store with an open-air car park surrounding it, but it is nothing of the kind. Instead, it would be perfectly possible to enter the shop from the front and be unaware of the car parks that have been integrated into the structure.

“Ikea has not spared the horses when it comes to making this store part of the Hamburg landscape”

John Ryan, stores editor, Retail Week

On the ground floor, this looks and feels much like many Ikeas, except that there are continual reminders of the store’s urban context.

That means there are room-sets – lot of them – but it also means there are features such as a wall filled with flatscreen monitors, each of which shows footage of the construction workers who have worked on this project since its inception in 2010.

There are also more of the outsize packing crates seen in the windows, which are used as display vehicles around the floor.

As far as the range is concerned, the ground floor is about relatively small items that can be carried out of the store. There are the usual shortcuts for those who don’t wish to enjoy the traditional Ikea walking tour, but in any event, the latter is not so extensive that the shopper will feel exhausted afterwards.

And almost as a reward, at the end of the ground floor circuit there is a cafe incorporating a mock birch wood forest. This was very well used on the rainy midweek day of visiting and the community board, on which shoppers can post wanted and for sale notices, was full to the brim.

At this point there is a choice – leave the store or head upstairs. For those opting to use the escalator, the first floor is predominantly about furniture and kids’ toys and furnishings. It is perhaps representative of the way things are in Germany that there is a child’s roomset with a sign that states Mein Erstes Büro! (My first office!).

The graphics on this floor are noteworthy too. They take the form in many of the roomsets of photographs of parts of central Hamburg, a couple of kilometres away. Ikea has not spared the horses when it comes to efforts to make this store part of the Hamburg landscape.

Top-floor finish

And so to the second and top floor. In Ikea’s largest stores, it is normal for the warehouse section to be on the ground floor so that shoppers can effect a speedy exit. Not so in Ikea Altona, where the floor-to-ceiling racks that mark the end of most visits to one of the retailer’s stores are on the top floor.

This does not make things quite as difficult as it sounds. There are so many alternative ways of getting stock from shop to home that the car does not have to be the default, and the car parks are easily accessed from the lifts.

There are, naturally, the usual array of checkouts at the end of all of this – except that, as on the ground floor, there are a large number of self-scan terminals that correspond to the notion of more frequent shops and smaller baskets.

Back on the ground floor and leaving the shop by the main door once more, it’s still raining outside – time to pause for a coffee in the cafe before getting on the S-Bahn.

Ikea’s first Citystore is smaller than average, trades from multiple levels, has different ranging and may be visited easily without a car. Expect more of the kind if this one works.