IKEA should get its website UX right before rushing in the shopping cart

It has become a pattern to me now that I shop for large furniture at IKEA every three to four years. Lately when I shopped again for our apartment, I found myself stunned by how little IKEA’s website had evolved over the years. How eternal is the unforgettable two-step flow from ikea.com to the main contents – first clicking through an overwhelming list of 46 countries, then selecting your local store. For once I felt I wasn’t tracked by geolocation and language detection! But for a global company such as IKEA, the lack of consideration and sophistication, not to mention innovation, for its online presence is just astonishingly unbelievable.

IKEA needs to catch up. Coincidentally, during the days I was in and out of the website, checking out products for our new home and of course, complaining about how annoying shopping at IKEA was, I happened to read the article about the company’s executives’ acknowledgement of ‘forgetting the Internet’ on Fast Company. The article pointed out IKEA’s negligence in ‘translating its store experience to the online experience’, resonating with many other customers through social media.

IKEA has in fact already admitted its ignorance of the Internet last year. Since then, the company has made online shopping available in almost half of countries it operates (via Daily Mail Australia). It’s exciting, especially for customers like myself who hate spending time shopping. But just by looking at its South and Western Australia websites, where online shopping is now available, it is nothing but disappointment – the shopping component, blandly dropped into the existing sites, seems to be creating more problems than helping the customers and the business.

Nonetheless, if IKEA manages its logistics well, an unpleasant site with shopping cart is always better than just the crappy site for product browsing – we poor little people still have to travel all the way down to its Tempe store to get just a $2 toilet brush and a few mugs (on top of that is Sydney’s irritating public transport). Yes, this was my fourth IKEA shopping and the first time I felt so unsatisfying with both IKEA’s in-store and online experiences – a sign for IKEA that it is time to rethink about how to interact with its customers. Below, I will run through some major problems that surfaced in my latest IKEA shopping.

Customer flow: how did we (Jac and myself) shop at IKEA?

Day 1
1. Visited Tempe store after work, browsed products in showrooms
2. Back home, Jac checked out interested products + browsed other products on website on iPad

Day 2-3
1. Compared products from other companies, decided products to purchase from IKEA
2. Jac and I visited IKEA’s website on iPad together, searched and saved products to shopping list for in-store shopping

Day 4
1. I revisited our shopping list on desktop and found out that there was only one cabinet left in stock. Called IKEA to reserve it but reservation wasn’t available
2. Rushed to IKEA store after work, an hour before it closed. Found product locations from shopping list on my iPhone
3. Checked items we were unsure about in showrooms, found product locations on tags
4. Purchased all items as planned. Walked out with no additional item
5. Sent products for next-day delivery

Problems exposed:

1. Optimisation for tablet

IKEA’s full site is shown on tablet. Since we visited the IKEA site on my iPad most of the time, the lack of responsiveness made it difficult for us to freely navigate to view other products. Overall for our tasks there were a lot of redundant information that is either uninteresting to us or not user-friendly that we could not be bothered to use. Areas highlighted in green below were completely dismissed when we were browsing products. Areas highlighted in maroon were heavily focused.

Browsing the huge selection of the products page by page, especially on tablet, is a challenge to our patience as we are now accustomed to the immediacy of vertical scrolling. Its puny page numbers are way too small even for my small fingertip; the absence of the ‘next page’ button adds another layer of difficulty in browsing the products. The tapping errors caused by these small page numbers are likely to decrease exposure of the products that are beyond the first page.

The hover state from the desktop website creates another unnecessary and confusing step on tablet. By tapping the product, we expect to land in the product page; instead it shows an enlarged box with measurements and ‘save to list’ button. Only can we tap again on either the product photo, name or the timid ‘More options’, it leads us to the product page. Yet this second tap isn’t encouraged, nor is the whole enlarged box linked. It could be misleading for some as the desktop hover state could be seen as the product page, with ‘save to list’ button as a call-to-action trigger.

What can be improved: Product accessibility for tablet users.

2. Behavioural dissimilarity in navigation between full site and mobile site

While spending most of our browsing time on iPad, our minds were trained to find the products by types of room at the top navigation. The five ‘room type’ tabs reached the maximum number for our short-term memory. Other tabs were completely dismissed when we used the top navigation. The ‘All products’ tab, in particular, was a spot we would NEVER touch not only because of its inferior position (overpowered by the black italic ‘Inspiration’ tab), but also the torturing list of product links it lead to.


Ironically, the ‘All products’ tab was the only tab for browsing the products on IKEA’s mobile site. The categories are overwhelming. Jac and I attempted to search products on our phones, but both of us switched to the full site on mobile after failing to find the first product. Irritated by the full site on the 5.5″ screen, we switched again to my iPad at the end.


What can be improved: Consistency between full site and mobile site. Redesign and test navigation bar based on user behaviours and feedback. A mega menu with grouped information under 4-5 categories could help users memorise and navigate more easily.

3. Poor internal search performance*

Internal search is a key part in IKEA shopping experience for customers like Jac and I – start with in-store shopping, take notes on the spot and check products online through internal search later on. While most direct searches were successfully performed and spelling errors were tolerated, there were difficulties in allocating some products. Below is what we have encountered in our searches:

- Product name, type and attributes

Possibly one of IKEA’s most popular products, the square modular shelves have been used as bookshelves by our friends and companies we have worked for or visited. As we were searching for the one-column version, it was just natural for us to use ‘bookshelf’ in the query. But IKEA didn’t seem to think that it is a bookshelf. In the 37 pages of results, there were not only bookcases which were not what we were looking for, but also irrelevant products such as TV storage units, TV benches, drawers, doors and even rails for sliding doors!

After a couple more unsuccessful attempts with queries such as ‘one column bookshelf’ and ‘single column bookshelf’, we decided to browse in the ‘living room’ section – and there it was! As soon as we tapped the ‘living room’ tab, the ‘bookshelf’ we were looking for was shown on the first fold of the page. The product is called ‘shelving unit’ but not ‘bookshelf’! Duh. How would we know it as a shelving unit? It is just not the term we would use or even think of.


What can be improved: Relevancy of search results + product content optimisation for local users based on past search data and user tests. However, in the above case, improving the site’s navigation design can give us a glance on product categories and provide better path for us to reach desired contents.

- Query construction

While I was looking for a wash basin cabinet, strangely without having the term ‘wash basin’ in mind, I started with ‘bathroom cabinet’, which led me to a pool of general bathroom cabinets. Later on, as ‘wash basin’ came to mind, I constructed a pretty excessive query ‘bathroom cabinet under wash basin’, which narrowed the results down to six products. In comparison, a shortened query such as ‘wash basin cabinet’ which was not dissimilar to what a ‘bathroom cabinet under wash basin’ was, showed three pages of results instead and included the cabinet I was looking for.

What can be improved: Better search results with consideration for users’ query construction.

- Similar result listings

It took some cognitive strain to understand a full page of 25 chairs named ‘POÄNG’ as a result of querying ‘armchair’. These POÄNG armchairs vary in sizes and materials, but their differences can only be learned about by tapping or hovering on the products. Colour variation was the most obvious in the searched results but it applies to all products. This is very misleading as some users would select the products by colours and could easily give up the products if the sizes or materials don’t meet their criteria.


What can be improved: The naming system for similar products. Or in the above case, a minimal number of product entries can represent all models. Different sizes and colours can be addressed within the product info page – similar to Nike ID but with less options.

* This section takes inspiration from Deconstructing E-Commerce Search: The 12 Query Types by Baymard Institute.

4. The humble shopping list and ‘check stock’ function

The most helpful tools were the shopping list and ‘check stock’ function. Without them we couldn’t finish the in-store shopping in just an hour. Yet in Jac’s first round of product browsing (without me), she wasn’t entirely aware of both tools on the website, nor was she educated about how handy these tools could be when purchasing products in store. Jac did see the ‘save to list’ button, but she didn’t save the products to the list because she:

– was highly concentrating on reading the product specification
– prefers to write down products on a piece of paper (but not article locations, unaware of it)
– unaware that she didn’t need to sign up to save product to the list
– unaware that saved list would be cashed in her web browser

What can be improved: Visual emphasis on shopping list and ‘check stock’ function. Onboard new users with instructions in using these tools.

5. Inflexibility in reservation and delivery

The good side for not using the ‘check stock’ function is that users can avoid the nerve-wracking moment when the site shows ‘1 in stock’. Being unable to reserve the last piece in stock and forced to travel immediately, all the way to IKEA store to move the last package onto your shopping trolley is frustrating (unless you live next to IKEA!). If someone gets in one minute earlier than you, that would be a disaster (better bring a knife with you too). How outrageous this is, to not have control on just shopping for a door? Does IKEA not care how we feel?

On top of that, the next-day delivery (we only found out after we purchased the products) could be extremely annoying and inconvenient for customers. The next-day delivery is desired only for small-to-medium package that can be delivered without schedule and be used or tried on arrival. What IKEA delivers is a HOME. We as customers would like to have preparation to welcome a new home, and as we receive it, we want to open it and see it in a full piece as soon as possible. If delivery dates are inflexible, at least this next-day delivery should be addressed on the website so that customers are more prepared when their homes arrive.

What are the lost opportunities?

A customer behaviour that IKEA encourages is that every time the customer walks into the store, he/she is likely to purchase additional products that are not in the shopping list (I used to be one of those customers!). But our behaviours have changed – Today we are busy and easily distracted, furthermore, often under the impression that something better and cheaper is out there on Internet. Companies such as IKEA would struggle to upsell their products in store as our shopping lists are now more well-researched and prepared.

Although we were proud walking out of IKEA store with no ONE additional item in our hands, we also felt that if we would have paid attention to other products, it would be hard to resist anything else that would be useful for us. Since we can only spend very limited time in store, the only thing we can thank to, for keeping our spending within budget, is IKEA’s outdated, uncaring websites (in this instance, poor UX = happy customers!).

Reversely, these lost opportunities could be re-earned by creating better online experience and delivering relevant contents to customers. Two main things I wish I could have when I was using the sites were:

a personalised online experience to push highly relevant contents to users. Cut out the crap – I was desperate to make my living room look good; I don’t care about the kitchen tools, neither do I have a garden or a swimming pool. So give me a lot of living room goodies but not frying pan or planting pot.

a more targeted pinboard of inspirations for using the products to trigger emotions. We want products that talk to us, not just items listed in spread sheets.

Get it right before rushing the shopping cart, IKEA!

Again referring to IKEA’s ‘forgot about the Internet’ acknowledgement, I hope they were not just talking about the missed opportunities in e-commerce. The Internet IKEA forgot about is the whole new level of thinking and ways of communicating with its customers in the digital space. To reach its growing goal of 85% by 2020 (IKEA’s 2014 revenue was 29.3 billion euros, via Statista), IKEA should start listening to its customers and rethink about its shopping experiences, rather than just expanding globally and taking up new markets.

Now over to you …

How were your past IKEA shopping experiences? Let’s continue the discussion on Google+.


Header image and screenshots of IKEA websites: ©IKEA.

Author – Danling Xiao


Creating user-centred brand experience is my passion. View my design portfolio >

Mundane Matters

Mundane Matters curates impromptu food art I make everyday. See the growing collection on Instagram.

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