Ikea aims to become a leader in home furnishings and value for money products
In an exclusive conversation with The Edge, James McGowan, regional brand communication manager, Ikea Qatar, UAE, Egypt and Oman, sheds light on the company’s core business proposition and how the Swedish store caters for the local taste in furnishing.
What is your experience in the Middle East?
I have been a part of the Ikea brand for 13 years, working in various positions, including store manager for the Ikea store in Yas Island. Leading the marketing team, I optimise the use of conventional as well as innovative marketing tools to bring the Ikea brand closer to its customers across the region. The team aspires to establish Ikea as a brand that offers products of great design at an affordable price to improve the lives of many.
Please tell us about Ikea in Qatar – the number of employees, product range, sales growth, etcetera.
We opened the doors to the Ikea store in Doha Festival City on March 11, 2013. The launch was our commitment towards the Qatar economy, and we think the market has great potential for both growth as well as innovation.
So far, Ikea Doha has employed over 300 people and in the last year, we welcomed 1.4 million visitors. Our core product range includes approximately 7500 products encompassing our new and limited collections, which are introduced into the core range a few times a year.
How do you assess your Qatari customers’ behavioural traits? What sets them apart?
Across our Qatari customer base, we have noticed a strong mix of worldwide trends as well as local influence in the designs and styles favoured. In order to better understand how people in the local market lives and their home furnishing needs and preferences, Ikea conducts regular home visits every year. Based on this research, we have tried our best to encompass these local features within the global Ikea concept. For example, on average, Qatari homes may have multiple living/lounge spaces as compared to other markets. We use this knowledge in our product choices as well as displays within the room sets to make Ikea more relevant to the Qatari customer.
Ikea has had issues with stock shortages in Qatar. What are the reasons behind this, and how are you dealing with it?
In the first three months of opening, we did face some challenges with stock availability due to the higher than expected demand from Qatari consumers. However, we have been operating for over two years now, and have a better grasp of customer shopping trends. This knowledge now helps us to secure product availability.
How competitive is Qatar’s furniture and fittings market, both in terms of prices and quality?
Over the past few years, we have seen a number of competitors enter the market. Our aim is to position Ikea as a leader in home furnishings with quality, and value for money products.
What is Ikea’s unique selling point (USP) within Qatar? How is it different from the global USP?
Our vision at Ikea is to create a better life for people. We do that by providing good quality products at great value. Irrespective of local taste preferences, this unique selling proposition remains Ikea’s focal aim across all markets. Within Doha, we keep the Ikea concept – created over half a century ago – to offer customers a complete family day out through catering to children’s needs at Småland play area, and a wide choice of refreshments at the Ikea Restaurant and Café.
Having completed two years, what are some future strategies of Ikea Qatar? Any expansion plans you want to highlight?
The essence of Ikea is to bring good ideas, show good solutions, create higher awareness about home furnishings and contribute to improving everyday life experience of people.
The aim within Qatar is to keep improving our performance and services, focus on growing, and continue to offer customers well-designed and good quality home furnishing products and services at a price that everyone can afford. At Ikea, we always have a long-term vision. We have had a very busy last few years. Soon after launching our store in Doha, we opened our very first store in Egypt’s Cairo Festival City. Our vision for the coming 10 years sees much potential and includes opening our first store in Muscat by 2017. The future looks bright, and at this point, most of the things still remain to be done.
A large part of Qatar’s market is not used to the do-it-yourself (DIY) concept. How does it impact sales of smaller items as the free shipping and delivery service is valid only on amounts above QAR2500?
The basic trend that we see regarding larger furniture purchases is that most customers choose to have them delivered and assembled. Purchases over QAR2500 are delivered and assembled free of charge. However, if your purchase is less than QAR2500, then delivery and assembly is still available, but at a small fee. Smaller items and accessories purchased are usually taken home immediately.
What has been the response to your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaigns in Qatar? Please tell us about some key CSR activities in Qatar.
We have successfully completed two years of running the Ikea Soft Toys for Education campaign in Qatar in partnership with United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Qatar Charity, since we first launched it in 2013. During the campaign, each year, for every soft toy sold at Ikea stores worldwide, Ikea Foundation donates EUR1 (QAR4) to UNICEF. This donation is utilised for UNICEF’s many education programmes globally. As a local ‘give twice’ initiative, Ikea Qatar customers were also encouraged to donate the Ikea soft toys within designated collection boxes located in the store. The last campaign successfully collected over 1000 soft toys which were handed out by Qatar Charity to orphans, children with special needs and young students supported by the organisations across Qatar. The campaign has been very well received and we are extremely pleased with the response we have received from the local customers.
The Ikea Foundation, benefitting over 11 million children globally, launched the Soft Toys for Education campaign in 2003. Supporting over 99 projects in 46 countries worldwide, this campaign raised EUR67 million (QAR274.7 million) in total over the last 10 years and EUR10 million (QAR41.4 million) in 2013 alone.
In the past, funds raised for UNICEF by this campaign have supported global efforts including improving school infrastructure, access to water and sanitation facilities, training teachers, and providing school benches, desks and educational supplies such as books, pencils, and writing pads for children and teachers.
What are some key challenges of dealing in the Qatari market and what are some opportunities?
As Qatar has such a diverse population, trying to keep up with changing styles and trends can be quite challenging. One of our key learnings from Qatar has been the need to add local cultural nuances within our designs. As mentioned earlier, we have worked very hard to understand the exact needs of this market, having conducted detailed studies of homes in Qatar through home visits and interviews with the families. A reflection of that study is strongly visible in the strategies we have employed within the Qatari market.
For example, our store in Doha Festival City was the first to showcase a majlis setup using Ikea products. This was the first time in any Ikea store in the world, and a huge deviation from the basic concept. This was done with the specific aim to demonstrate how Ikea is relevant to local needs. The majlis shows that Ikea products can be moulded and used to create existing cultural designs and standards. Similarly, our store reflects the findings of our study to include more bathroom storage solutions. We have designed our room settings in a way to offer even more inspirations to utilise the extra space well.