The IKEA experience reimagined: a pop-up store with a connected app.

Challenge: During a graduate school course on prototyping, two classmates and I reimagined the IKEA shopping experience. Our task was to develop one of our proposed solutions into a physical prototype at scale.

Outcome: We designed and prototyped an “IKEA Mini”—a small pop-up storefront with a few display rooms, to be located in malls, airports, or college campuses. Visitors try out IKEA furniture without the hassle of navigating a complex store, and order items for delivery using an app and bluetooth-connected price tags.

Video: Follow Alberto as he discovers the IKEA Mini. (30 seconds)

Tap to add Each piece of furniture is affixed with a SmartTag—a small bluetooth beacon embedded in a price tag. Messaging clearly invites people to tap their phones to add the item to their cart using the IKEA app. The app also allows shoppers to choose from styles and colors not on display at the IKEA Mini.

IKEA Smart Tags

Customers struggle During several visits to IKEA, we observed customers struggle to maneuver bulky items on large carts that lacked fixed rear wheels. Other customers were asked at the register to individually unpack dozens of the same item they wanted to purchase—while others could remain in the cart to be scanned. Interviews with customers revealed that the store layout was enjoyable to those with time but annoying to those who already knew what they wanted.

Customers struggle with IKEA carts and checkout

Let’s re-arrange We used small paper elements to recreate the checkout, warehouse and parking lot, demonstrating changes that would have a big impact on the customer experience. This business origami approach made it easy to discuss and visualize our ideas as a team.

Customer frustrations at checkout
Business origami of customer issues at checkout
Furniture loading docks
Business origami of furniture loading docks

The IKEA scanner Given how frustrating shopping carts were for customers, we tried to eliminate them entirely. We considered converting the self-service warehouse into a traditional one: customers would scan products to a virtual cart as they walked through the showrooms, while IKEA employees would collect the items and have them waiting in the loading area once customers finished. This has obvious staffing implications, but would significantly improve the shopper’s experience.

IKEA scanner storyboard

We need more sticky notes! After multiple visits to IKEA, we collected our interview notes and observations and used the “Rose, Bud, Thorn” method to identify insights.

Whiteboard with insights on how to improve IKEA

Strategy considerations Early on, we knew that many of our ideas would require a significant shift in business strategy, even if they were great from a UX perspective. IKEA's business model requires customers to do much of the work. The IKEA Mini we eventually chose to design maintains IKEA’s business strategy and brand, while expanding its online and home-delivery business. We created a stakeholder ecosystem map as part of our process of anticipating strategy implications.

An ecosystem map of IKEA

Initial physical prototype We built our first full-scale IKEA Mini from foam core boards, office furniture, and paper printouts. At this point, our SmartTag consisted of a physical button for customers to press, adding the product to their cart. We learned we needed a stronger feedback mechanism between the tag and the IKEA app: customers couldn’t tell whether pushing the button did anything.

Physical button prototype
A woman presses a button on an IKEA price tag
Early physical prototype
Physical prototype of an IKEA Mini

Final IKEA Mini We constructed our final physical prototype in the entryway of a college campus, using office furniture, props, plants, and posters to mimic an IKEA showroom. We created an interactive app and SmartTags for shoppers to order items by tapping their phone to the tag.

IKEA Mini prototype
The interior of an IKEA Mini with a desk and two chairs
An IKEA SmartTag
A customer taps the smart tag with her phone