Accha! / OK! Ikea Stores Make Their India Debut

Category: International Business

After much deliberate cultural engineering, Ikea, the world’s largest specialized furniture manufacturer, was finally and recently given the government’s official “Accha!” (Hindi) / “OK!” (Swedish), to move ahead with plans to build, solely own and operate the first four of about 25 retail stores in the sub-continent.

Ikea is no stranger to the land of the Taj Mahal and Gandhi. It has been sourcing a large volume of its rugs and other fabrics from India’s huge export textile manufacturing industry, and expects to continue to improve the lot of its labor force while stepping up its supply side.

With 301 stores already in 37 countries (as of 2012) and many first time enterprises planned in the Slavic countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as in New Zealand, Indonesia and South Korea in the coming years, Ikea has trumped the Disneyland enterprise, whose outposts are found only in the USA, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris.

Ikea will debut in Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Bangalore, cities with a total population of over 50 million. It is not yet clear whether Ikea will create its promotional materials in Hindi, or just rely on the fact that in India, a country that has had upwards of over 1600 languages spoken daily, English (of British lineage) is the most common language used by its target market: the upwardly mobile middle class. Ikea’s paper catalogs are published in 62 versions in 20 languages, amounting to 211 million copies annually. Each regional version of the look-book is tightly edited to visually reflect what Ikea marketing gurus believe to reflect the appropriate lifestyle for a locale.

Of course, Ikea has been actively using digital technology, including websites offered in English as well as local languages, the new Ikea Now app and regional advertising (note: YouTube link) Generally, Ikea’s customer base includes both monolingual and bilingual (English-speaking) locals and expats, the latter who may only be able to access the site in-country, so bilingual websites are the norm. Case in point, search for Ikea Thailand in English on Google; it returns a result in Thai. Click on that and you get English first with an option to go to Thai version. Acclaro helps our clients to navigate these critical decisions — through consultation services — and in all aspects of language translation, from Arabic to Zulu, and yes, Hindi!

Like Disneyland where you come for the rides and go home with the ears, an Ikea store is more than a place to get stuff. It is an entire experience: a lifestyle “showcase” (whose works you can interact with, buy, and replicate exactly in your own home or office), a warehouse that makes purchasing efficient and a place to enjoy with the whole family.

In addition to its maze of product showrooms, Ikea stores are known for their restaurants featuring light Swedish cuisine and accommodations for children. The culinary offerings vary in some markets with specific dietary laws, such as in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and at least one store in Israel where the food adheres to Kosher standards.  With 42% of the Indian population being vegetarian, it is likely that they will offer such fare.

Going global? Take a page from Ikea’s story and look at your business from many different angles. You may just find that even a few culturally sensitive accommodations make a world of difference.