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The Real Story Behind IKEA's Enduring Popularity, According to an Expert

living room with white couch and rattan side chairs


Trends might come and go, but one thing’s for sure: The power of IKEA will always prevail. As one of the most popular destinations for sleek, Scandinavian furniture, IKEA is a perfect match for the pared-down aesthetics trending in homes today. And while IKEA feels undeniably current, the brand was actually founded in 1943. Mic drop

In an industry that’s constantly welcoming new trends, product launches, and direct-to-consumer brands, finding a company that has stayed relevant for nearly 80 years is the design equivalent to a needle in a haystack. (Or a cloth napkin in a blue and yellow bag filled with IKEA goodies, your call.)

So what gives? What makes IKEA so able to withstand the test of time? According to Paco Underhill, author, and founder of market research company Envirosell, its user-friendliness plays a big role in the company’s long-term success. 

Meet the Expert

Paco Underhill, author and founder of market research company Envirosell, which studies retail strategies and the ways people behave in stores.

“It goes back to its Nordic roots,” he says “It’s a store for D.I.Y. enthusiasts.” 

Today, there are plenty of services that will build your furniture for a fair, affordable price; however, that wasn’t always the case. As Underhill explains, it was pretty expensive to have someone build your furniture in Scandinavia—and IKEA empowered its shoppers to forgo the middleman. Not only is IKEA’s furniture easy to build, but there are also plenty of hacks to give your furniture a personalized look.

Underhill adds IKEA has simplified the entire shopping process by filling its storefront with realistic mockups. Instead of picking out a product from a catalog or website and hoping it’ll work in your space, you can see exactly how a piece of furniture or décor accessory will look alongside other objects. 

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that IKEA’s sleek Scandinavian aesthetic looks good and is practical. 

“The furniture doesn’t have dips and bevels, making it a lot easier to clean,” Underhill says.

But perhaps the biggest mystery behind IKEA is how it has remained so popular. We mean, this store has seemingly remained unfazed during the rise of Amazon and direct-to-consumer companies. However, between simplifying its instruction process and making those notorious store layouts more bearable, Underhill argues IKEA is keeping up the times in its own special way. Of course, if you want to avoid the store’s hypnotic layout altogether, you can always peruse IKEA’s offerings online—and decorate your home from the comfort of your couch.

Between simplifying its instruction process and making those notorious store layouts more bearable, Underhill argues IKEA is keeping up the times in its own special way.

In turn, today’s brick-and-mortar stores have even taken a page out of IKEA’s playbook. Yes, we’re talking about the restaurants. Over the past few years, every store from Restoration Hardware to Nordstrom, to Bergdorf Goodman has improved the shopping experience by adding bars and restaurants. While these additions deftly encourage customers to simultaneously snack, sip, and shop, let’s not forget IKEA has been feeding its guests for years

“It encourages people to try something they’ve never had before, like Swedish meatballs, and might even convince you to have dinner a little early,” Underhill says.