Taking IKEA Out of Its Box and Redesigning It for 1.6B Users

More than 1.6 billion people visited IKEA’s website in 2015. That’s a fifth of the entire world’s population and more than half of all people with internet access.

But despite that incredibly impressive reach, IKEA had a conversion problem. The store’s online and mobile platforms did a poor job of converting younger consumers, and the reason wasn’t a lack of brand appeal or pricing – it was a clunky, out-of-date user experience.

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Take the search bar at the top of the old website.

Few IKEA users – if any – know the exact Swedish names of the products they’re looking for, so they tend to search for a category of products instead of a specific item.

Unfortunately, on the current IKEA website, a simple search for “bookshelf” returned these results:

A follow-up search revealed that IKEA refers to most of their bookshelves as bookcases, but that shouldn’t have mattered.

Millennials expect their queries to be understood the first time around, and older consumers are starting to expect the same.

From the homepage down to the individual product pages, IKEA’s big-box way of doing things hindered its ability to reach a very out-of-the-box generation.

So how did we make IKEA’s user experience more intuitive, more forward-thinking, and more meaningful for young consumers, all while maintaining the brand that literally billions of people – young and old – already trust?

Allow us to share our step-by-step instructions. (Allen wrench not included.)

Step 1: Design a Friendlier First Experience.

On the current IKEA website, visitors were instantly greeted with a pop-up, asking them to sign up for the mailing list. The pop-up was abrasive and off-putting. It set the wrong tone, so we did away with it.

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I replaced the pop-up with a subtler slide-over box, which appears after a user has been on the site for at least one minute.

The sign up option does not interfere with the rest of the site, and it offers instant savings if the user chooses to join the mailing list. As IKEA shoppers tend to be cost-conscious, we’ve found this gentler approach with an added offer to be much more effective.

Step 2: Declutter the Homepage.

Next, the homepage was too cluttered with information and options.

The site looked busy, and no particular section immediately drew the eye, creating an experience that felt overwhelming.

We chose to drastically reduce the content on the homepage, focusing primarily on a large image slider, which featured images of different room types.

We also made the images more representative of IKEA’s actual customer base.

The old site showcased big rooms in unattainable homes. The thing is: Most Americans today are renters.

Younger generations are putting off marrying, having kids, and buying homes.

So we replaced the pristine photos, used on the homepage and category landing pages, with images that reflect a much broader variety of living arrangements and personal styles.

Our photos feature kitchen layout examples, cooking layouts (like the one above) and other examples related to people being active around a specific category – mostly in apartments and smaller living spaces.

Remember that ill-fated “bookshelf” search?

It wasn’t an isolated incident.

For example, searching on the old site for “couch” returned no product matches at all. On the other hand, searching for “sofa” yielded 1,095 results. That’s no good.

So our next step was a total overhaul of IKEA’s search feature, utilizing the latest advances in natural language processing and semantic search using wit.ai’s API.

The goal was to empower users to be able to find whatever they were looking for as quickly as possible without having to navigate through the complex room hierarchies employed by the current IKEA site.


Step 4: Redesign the Mobile Experience.


Today, 68% of Americans and more than 85% of Millennials own smartphones, and 87% of smartphone users report never separating from their mobile devices. Needless to say, a stellar mobile platform is an absolute must for any business.

IKEA’s mobile site was essentially a pared-down version of its full website – not intuitive and not mobile friendly.

Our first step was integrating our improved search features into the mobile site, making it easier for users to get to the product of their choice.

We also integrated a barcode scanning tool so that people shopping in IKEA stores could look up more detailed product information and reviews before buying.

Fifty-seven percent of mobile shoppers compare prices and products while in stores, so this addition was vital.

Then we made serious upgrades to the IKEA app.

Changes we made included making reviews easier to access, the shopping list feature, and offering weekly design tips.

Stepping Out of the Box and Into the Future

IKEA’s out-of-date online presence was a deterrent to younger consumers, but the changes that we incorporated have appeal across every demographic.

By giving the company’s entire online presence a more intuitive, forward-thinking design, we enabled IKEA to stay true to its brand while creating a better experience for all of its 1.6 billion users.

What problems have you had in the past with IKEA’s digital experience? And how would you suggest improving it?

You can view the full presentation of the design here.

The article was originally posted on Toptal