Ikea Experiments With Turning Travel Time into Currency

The massive retailer is letting certain customers buy furniture with the time they spent travelling to the store, all verified through Google Maps.

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Need to Know

  • In a retail-first, Ikea is introducing a way for customers to pay for items with time—that is, the time spent traveling to and from Ikea, conveyed via Google Maps.
  • The “Buy With Your Time” campaign is available exclusively in Ikea Dubai and coincides with the opening of Ikea in Jebel Ali.
  • The idea id that Ikea can better understand customer journeys and where to expand with new locations.
  • Ikea has launched many location-specific initiatives around the world, including in India, Russia, and Austria, that target the shopping differences across cultures.
  • Online sales account for 10% of total sales at Ikea but have grown 50% over the past year.

Analysis 

Ikea is back at it again with a new retail campaign called “Buy With Your Time” launching in Dubai this year. The concept, timed to coincide with the opening of Ikea Jebel Ali, is meant to support the many customers who live in city centers and are forced to spend a lot of time traveling to outlets that are usually on the edges of big cities. 

Acting as a “price offset” or “time currency”, this campaign will allow customers to show their Google Maps to a checkout clerk to confirm the time spent travelling to and walking around Ikea stores. 

This time currency is meant to be based on the average salary in Dubai and can be applied to all Ikea items, which will have a “time price” tag. A commute of three hours might represent a bookcase, while a five-minute drive could help someone buy a hot dog or the traditional IKEA meatball.

“Before the birth of this campaign, we realized two things: time is precious today, and many loyal IKEA customers spend a significant chunk of it visiting our locations, which are sometimes away from the city centre,” said an Ikea spokesperson. “We think it’s only right to reward our customers’ efforts by repaying them for the time spent reaching us. It’s our way of helping the Dubai community make the most of every minute.”

Ikea has been very smart in the past about entering new markets and adjusting marketing and store setup for different cultures. For example, in Russia, the retailer launched digital showrooms that highlight typical Russian standardized apartment designs and how to furnish them in innovative ways. That insight into Russian lives saw online sales jump 17% in the region. 

In India, Ikea test-drove small-scale “pop-up” stores in central locations like Mumbai and Pune before launching a mix of digital showrooms, pick-up points, and large-format outlets on the outskirts of big city centers like Hyderabad. As e-commerce penetration in India is only 28% and most consumers buy furniture from small, local stores, there is a huge opportunity for Ikea to introduce its wares in ways that work for Indian consumers.

Now, Ikea is testing an urban megastore in Vienna, Austria—opposite to its typical locations outside of city centers—as more shoppers are carless. This strategy is meant to complement the country’s online shopping tendencies that see bigger furniture pieces mailed straight to their front doors. 

Thanks to intensive local research and smart testing before full-scale investment, Ikea is seeing its investment in both international and online markets pay off.

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