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IKEA bets on remote interior design as AI changes sales strategy

CNA – IKEA is training call centre workers to become interior design advisers as the Swedish furniture giant aims to offer more home improvement services and hand run-of-the-mill customer queries to an artificial intelligence (AI) bot called Billie.

In April, IKEA expanded its interior design services to the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US), after previous launches in parts of Europe, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. In the UK, customers pay GBP25 (USD31.44) for a 45 to 60 minute interior design advice video call and suggested product list, and can pay GBP125 for three workspace design consultations, a floorplan and 3D visuals.

Ingka said it has trained 8,500 call centre workers as interior design advisers since 2021, while Billie – launched the same year with a name inspired by IKEA’s Billy bookcase range – has handled 47 per cent of customers’ queries to call centres over the past two years.

“We’re committed to strengthening co-workers’ employability in Ingka, through lifelong learning and development and reskilling, and to accelerate the creation of new jobs,” said Ingka Group global people and culture manager Ulrika Biesert.

Sales by phone or video of products and services through Ingka’s remote interior design channel accounted for EUR1.3 billion (USD1.40 billion) of revenue in Ingka’s 2022 financial year – 3.3 per cent of the total. Ingka Group told media it aims to grow that share to 10 per cent by 2028 as part of a push to appeal to future Gen Z customers.

In comparison, online sales of products via IKEA’s website, which is owned by Ingka, amounted to some EUR9.9 billion, or 25 per cent of total sales in Ingka’s financial year ending August 31, 2022.

The investment in digital services, as IKEA embarks on a EUR2-billion expansion in the US, is in keeping with rival Wayfair, which last month launched a “Digital Design Studio” – an in-store kiosk where shoppers can experiment with furniture styles and layout in a digital rendering of a room.

“It’s not surprising that IKEA are now focussing on virtual sales channels – if anything the surprise is that it’s later than it could have been,” said technology lawyer and co-head of the retail sector team at Gowling WLG in London Jocelyn Paulley.

People enter an inner-city IKEA store on its opening day in Stockholm, Sweden. PHOTO: CNA