Through the Lens of a Marketer: Four New Views of a Familiar Store

By: Samera Arcot, Katelyn DuChemin, Manuel Lopez, Frank Natale, and Karen Bemis (editor)

During Prof. Burgess’s Marketing Assessment and Analysis for Business and Science class, students visit IKEA.  Here, four students will tell you their transformation insights when visiting IKEA and thinking about the marketing ideas from their coursework.  Each has their own viewpoint, each offers personal and professional insight.  Follow along on their journey.

Beyond Expectations (Sameera Arcot)

“Beyond Expectations”– This was my feeling when I visited IKEA for the first time as part of MBS marketing study project. After entering this huge store, the first thing we can find is its detailed product catalogue. This helps to get an idea about IKEA’s various offerings before we start shopping. As soon as I started to walk in the showroom, I was surprised by the product naming. For instance, the first product I observed there was clothing hangers, which was named as “Hanger Bumerang” and its price details were clearly written on the big poster. Later I concluded that interesting product naming and big posters with price details were maintained consistently throughout the store.

For every product, there is a small details tag which tells us what the product is made of and other details. One must appreciate IKEA for being socially responsible as some of its products use recycled materials. They maintain good wayfinding signage which suggest shortcuts too. They even have navigational arrows on the floor projected by bulbs. One unique factor that attracted me was that they have arranged products not only in conventional store racks but also in real world fashion, i.e. model houses. They have rooms which resemble those of real houses and in which they have displayed the products in the places where they are generally placed in reality. This gives us a real feel about how the products actually look when we have them at our house.  They even have a model house as small as 270 sq. ft. in which they have displayed all the products that fit in that area. This gives a clear message about space management using their products. Interestingly they even display ideas on selecting right products in different scenarios, for example they have a poster which questions – “Picking a sofa for your family?” and suggests on how to pick the right one. This gave me a strong sense of interaction and engagement with the products even without sales persons around me. We can also find several information centers with sales persons ready to help us. Or we can search products in the screens they provide by ourselves. As IKEA deals with heavy products such as sofas which cannot be taken to the billing counters by ourselves, they have a unique idea of giving a booklet in which we can make note of product codes we want to buy and produce the same at the counter.  There is a possible chance of customers getting hungry by roaming in such a big store and IKEA does not disappoint even here. It has an inbuilt cafeteria which serves some authentic Sweden dishes. Overall, this is one of the best shopping experiences I ever had.|

Come Join Our Family (Manuel Lopez)

I had a great time at IKEA. Although I have been to IKEA before, it was refreshing to look at it from a different perspective. Every couch, pillow, storage unit, and room set up was as if I had seen it for the first time. The skills and critical thinking techniques that I learned in class helped me to see even the simplest things in a new light, and realize the overall message that was being conveyed by IKEA: "come join our family".

The Sneaky Genius (Katelyn DuChemin)

Whoa, look at that hanging light fixture! That’s a perfect rug for the kitchen; it would match my marble countertop so nicely. This bin could definitely fit all my summer sandals. Philip would love that closet set up next to the mirror. This dining table is could host our coworkers for dinner and drinks over the holidays! These cushions are so cute.

Gliding through Ikea, step-by-step I designed a dream apartment for my boyfriend and me. Ikea is geniusly sneaky; they plant seeds in your head through sign usage and acute product placement. It all begins as you float up the escalator, more and more of this adult play-house comes into view until you reach the 2nd floor and are stunned with at least 6 different fully-decorated room layouts. The biggest rooms draw you in with standout furniture pieces and inviting light fixtures. As I walked through the first room to catch my attention, I saw trendy clothes and random items placed in a modern fashion with the help of Ikea’s organizational inventions. Immediately I thought about my current room; messy and filled with basic clear plastic bins in an attempt to organize, but all it really did was condense my clutter into a small (plastic) confined space. I longed for an organized bedroom… I checked out a scarf holder hanging on the wall in front of me and I fell deeper into the daydream of my future home. Now with this visionary in mind, continuing through the halls of this 600 sq. ft. area was rather exciting. All the possibilities lying ahead distracted me from the original goal: staying under budget. When all the rooms are set up so realistically and decoratively, the consumer can’t help but ask himself, “Can I see myself here?” as if they are considering purchasing the whole ⅛ of a full functioning apartment. Sometimes, they’ll even plop themselves down on the couch or bed, pondering the possibilities.

There’s so much to look at. Every room seems to have a theme… low budget, tight space, city apartment, kid-friendly. Yet, even with the slightly obvious theme to the rooms, all the pieces in these rooms still seem versatile and inviting to any type of person in any type of home. That’s what makes it so challenging to look past even a single room set-up... Because I mean, what if THIS was the room had that fluffy rug you were looking for? Or the perfect way to set up your kitchen? Ikea takes you through a maze of all these rooms, occasionally opening up into a more generalized area with various styles and colors of one main type of furniture or fixture. For example, in the very beginning, after you are instantly inspiration-shocked by the initial rooms you walk through, the path leads you to a more open area, where there’s hundreds of couches. All different sizes, each with different coordinating pillows and rugs. Ikea sets the vision of your main common area right here as you are drawn to a favorite couch, and naturally you become thrilled as the ideas for complementing coffee tables, pillows, and lamps come rolling in.

You don’t even know you’re doing it. Ikea distracts you from realizing just how many things you want to buy because you don’t have to hold anything. You take this little notepad and pencil with you and all you have to do is write down the item number on the paper and then pick it up at the end when you’re ready to load up your car. Talk about convenience. When furniture shopping anywhere else, the consumer may stop the journey after realizing they can't fit more than a dresser in their shopping cart.

And just like that, you can’t stop. Literally, you can’t stop. In order to even walk to the exit/ check out area, you have to walk through the entire store, front to back, living room to bathroom. And everything is so appealing and eye catching that you never really even get bored. Obviously the store was designed this way on purpose. They want the consumer to see as much as possible before the checkout area even crosses their mind. There are no exit signs visible, just these vague black arrows on the ground pointing you in some direction that you truthfully hope leads you to your dream cabinets. When you do reach the end, there are large cart-type things that you can put your retrieved furniture pieces onto. It truly is an enjoyable experience walking through Ikea. It’s not only inspiring and experiential, but it’s fun as well. Even if you don’t buy anything, you’ll still remember those new-home inspirations, as I did, and you’ll probably come back to Ikea when you’re ready to fill a new home or room. Great job Ikea, you got me.

Through the Lens of the Marketer (Frank Natale)

     When you’re reading a new course syllabus for the first time, some might quickly scan it to get a rough idea of all of the assignments and exams that you can expect for that semester. On very rare occasions you might encounter a class trip involved in one of your assignments and a trip to IKEA might not be the type of class trip you were expecting. Such is the case for those of us enrolled in this summer’s Marketing Assessment and Analysis for Business and Science course taught by Prof. Mark Burgess.

     Many of us, especially those that have been living in New Jersey for some time, have been to the IKEA just off the NJ Turnpike in Elizabeth. A normal trip to IKEA starts with some want or need for some affordable piece of home furnishing. Then, maybe after browsing their website a bit, you then make plans to call your friend with a truck or SUV to see if they want to take a ride with you to IKEA. None of this was the case this past Tuesday when a couple dozen students from this summer’s Marketing for Business and Science class met up in the main front lobby of IKEA.

     Having been to IKEA many times before, I already knew what to expect. I will be funneled through a labyrinth of beautifully designed rooms until I came to the section that housed the specific piece of furniture I was looking for, be it a bookshelf, office desk, etc. However, this time was different… entirely different. I came with a new set of eyes. I came as a marketer.

     It all starts in the parking lot. Ignoring the not so pleasing sights and sounds (and New Jersey natives will know what I mean when I say “smells”) that are beyond IKEA’s control, you are greeted by a grand IKEA entranceway (at this point, it was easy to spot your class mates, because we were all the ones taking photos of the entranceway). I immediately started noticing things that I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to during my previous visits. The bold “IKEA FAMILY” sign on the revolving door reminded me that I had just walked passed a series of parking spots specifically for “Family Friendly Parking”. This “IKEA Family” theme was continuous throughout my experience.

     Whether it be helpful hints about organizing and storage to friendly reminders to secure tall furniture to the wall, it was clear that one of IKEA’s target markets consisted of new families. They even have a kid’s area to aid the shopping experience for young parents who might be trying to pick out a new bedroom set or an affordable kitchen design without the added stress of little ones by their side. This was just one of the many different marketing features that my group noticed during our walk through. It was a great experience to chat about different ideas with my classmates, and for me as a scientist completely foreign to the world of marketing, it was particularly helpful to hear their thoughts and ideas that both mirrored the text book but also added useful insights from other points of view.

     Overall, the experience was extremely helpful and enlightening. As a scientist who has trained many people in my lab over the years, I always stress the importance of hands on learning. While eagerly clinging to every word and jotting down notes about the material is a key aspect of learning, I find a lot of learning is experiential. I think this was the case during this IKEA trip. Learning about marketing from the textbook/slides is one thing, experiencing it through the lens of a marketer rather than as standard consumers, is a whole different learning experience. I look forward to working with my classmates on our final group presentation surrounding this IKEA trip/experience over the next several weeks.



Hope you enjoyed the journey! These students’ experiences highlight the importance of viewpoint and framing … even the familiar can seem new when you view it through the lens of new ideas.  MBS courses include field trips, like this one to IKEA, and internships (see other blogs) so students can see familiar products in new ways and apply what they learn in class to concrete actual situations.