Ikea is aiming to become one of the leading players in smart home technology as the furniture retailer makes its biggest investment for two decades in the area to take on big Silicon Valley groups such as Google and Amazon.
The chief executive of Inter Ikea, which owns the Ikea brand, told the Financial Times that the group was looking at products such as air cleaners to add to its growing list of smart products including speakers, blinds and lightbulbs.
“We see it as a very interesting area for us to embark on. We want to simplify it and make it affordable,” said Torbjorn Loof. “I think Ikea could have a leading role in the smart home arena,” he added.
Ikea is in the middle of its biggest transformation since its founding 76 years ago in Sweden as the group pushes more internet sales, services such as assembly and experiments with smaller shops in city centres. The group, now headquartered in the Netherlands, is reacting to dramatic changes in the retail industry with rapidly increasing ecommerce sales and dwindling visits to malls and many shops.
The furniture retailer said it is making its biggest investment since it set up a child-focused range in 1997 as it pushes more into smart homes, following a start with lightbulbs controllable from an app launched two years ago. It did not provide financial details.
This summer it has launched speakers in conjunction with Sonos — including one integrated into a lamp — as well as smart blinds that can all be co-ordinated through the same app.
Bjorn Block, head of what Ikea calls its Home Smart business area, said the furnishings giant was taking a different approach to the Silicon Valley companies and start-ups that have dominated the area.
“For us, home comes first. When we meet some of the tech companies they come from smart but we come from the home,” he said in a separate interview with the FT.
Ikea is busy hiring software engineers at its main hub in Almhult, in rural southern Sweden, but is also looking at possibly setting up in the US and Asia, Mr Block said.
He added that Ikea was looking at greatly increasing the number of smart products it had without revealing details, although he added that both water scarcity and air pollution were big global challenges that the company should try to address.
Mr Block added that Ikea had learned from its previous mistakes, such as when it tried to launch its own range of poorly reviewed TVs, so that when it moved into a new area such as music it made sure it did it with a name that consumers could trust, Sonos.
He stressed that he saw tech companies not just “as competitors; they can be collaborators too” but underlined that together they should not make “toys” but products that solve problems.
He added: “It shouldn’t only be Ikea. We love the mix and match approach. It makes it personal, and good. Quite a few players are needed in the smart home area, niche players too.”