We’re not in India just to build brand IKEA but also to build the home furnishing category: Kavitha Rao, IKEA India
Kavitha Rao, Country Commercial Manager, IKEA IndiaIKEA India
Kavitha Rao, Country Commercial Manager, IKEA India discusses the brand's key focus areas

We’re not in India just to build brand IKEA but also to build the home furnishing category: Kavitha Rao, IKEA India

Kavitha Rao, Country Commercial Manager, IKEA India discusses the brand's key focus areas
  • IKEA entered India in 2018 and since then has opened one store in Hyderabad and two in Mumbai. Its next two stops are Bangalore and Delhi.
  • We speak to Kavitha Rao, Country Commercial Manager, IKEA India who walks us through the brand's India journey so far and everything that lies ahead.
It was back in 2018 that Swedish furniture brand IKEA made its inroads into the Indian market with its first store in Hyderabad. 4 years since, the brand is now on its way to opening a store in Bangalore, after opening one large and one small showroom in Mumbai.

While shopping for furniture online or on an app would have been difficult for a lot of people till even a few years back, the lockdown hastened India’s digitization journey, which proved to be a boon for retailers like IKEA. The company launched its app in May last year and has reportedly seen its online sale more than double in the last 2 years, a trend that Peter Betzel, CEO & CSO at IKEA India is confident is here to stay.

India still has a huge unorganized furniture segment. For a brand like IKEA, the task has been to present itself as an affordable and sustainable alternative. While the large format showrooms mean that after 4 years, IKEA has only been able to expand, physically, to only 2 cities, its online platform is helping it take its products to more cities. For the next few years too, the focus will be to steadily increase both its offline and online presence.

To understand its journey in India so far and what lies ahead, we spoke to Kavitha Rao, Country Commercial Manager, IKEA India. Here’s what she had to say:

IKEA’s India Journey So Far

While IKEA’s official journey in India started in 2018 with the opening of its store in Hyderabad, it had been present in India since 2014, preparing for its foray into the country. Even before launching, the brand did a lot of research on what products will be relevant for Indian consumers and the team visited close to 2000 homes across different cities to understand their needs and aspirations.

“It was about understanding the different activities people did in their homes and how furniture and home furnishing accessories supported people in their everyday lives. That was a very important starting point for us. And then, at a later point, we placed IKEA products in customer homes across different cities to really see how they got used, to understand what worked well and what did not. In fact, in a good number of cases, we had actually placed products for anywhere between 12-18 months in customers homes between 2015-16 to really get first-hand feedback in terms of usage. And that was great insight for us because we also understood how our products fared in the Indian environment,” shared Rao.

This gave the team an opportunity to work on some product design, improve on products even before they actually started selling in the country. Its research also helped it come up with products that are more locally relevant. For instance, IKEA India has a much larger collection of cooking utensils like pots and pans, considering Indians’ love for cooking, in comparison to a lot of other markets.

When the brand launched its first showroom in Hyderabad, the marketing communication was very local, to keep it relevant to the consumers there. And the focus of the brand since has been on understanding the consumer better and presenting them with products that are relevant for them.

“The starting point for us has always been the thinking that the product range is really the right entity. The most important thing that we are focused on is to bring well-designed functional home furnishing products that are affordable. We believe doing that consistently will help us build the brand in the long-term. We’re still relatively new here and have a long way to go in terms of establishing IKEA as the top-of-mind brand for the Indian consumer. However, we are not in India just to establishing the IKEA brand, we’re also here to help build the home furnishing category too,” added Rao.

Navigating The Pandemic

For a brand like IKEA, as for any other retail brand, the physical experience a consumer gets is very important. However, the pandemic restricted store entry. So how did the brand navigate those lockdown months?

“It is always good to take a positive spin and be optimistic and that has been our approach since the first wave hit us. The positive out of this entire experience is that since we spent so much time indoors, the home became so much more important. But the challenging elements were that we worked through various lockdowns. There was a period when store visits were restricted but that is also where IKEA, as an omni-channel retailer, was able to leverage other customer touchpoints, be it e-commerce or remote-selling. Most of the research reports point to the fact that Indian consumer’s digital adoption was one of the highest across the world. So that is been an interesting journey for us. And that also gave us the opportunity to expand our e-commerce offering in many more cities across India. But we also saw very quickly that not everybody was comfortable buying a category like home furnishing online. And there we really started to look at how to augment the experience itself, with more human interaction through services. During the first wave, we had something called an online personal shopper who could support a customer trying to buy home furnishing online. This was very important in the India context because many weren’t comfortable shopping online and also because there could be customers who did not have the knowledge of home furnishing and the kind of product choices they needed to make to meet their own needs. So it helped on both fronts.”

The Roadmap Ahead

With 3 physical stores in India currently, IKEA is focusing on its Bangalore store which is expected to open between April and May.

“The next step for us is the Bangalore market where we will be opening both a large format store as well as a small format store. After that, the next milestone is Delhi where we have land parcels and work is underway in different stages in both Bangalore and Delhi. Those would be the next big steps for us and then we will start to explore the next set of cities within India,” shared Rao.

On what their key focus for the next few years will be, Rao said, “It is about continuing the journey that we have started. We want to figure out how to make home furnishing relevant for consumers in India and how to create even more interest for the home furnishing category as a whole. Within that, in the context of marketing, our focus will be to understand how to make IKEA a relevant go-to brand for consumers in the India market. They see our products as well-designed, functional, affordable and sustainable for themselves. So at a very high level, that is really what we will focus on. And then in the short-term, considering we are in the midst of the third wave, the next couple of months our focus will probably be on staying agile to some of the changes that are happening in the environment and adapt and continue to be resilient to face the challenges of the new wave,” concluded Rao.