IKEA Revolution: Remote Design with Artificial Intelligence
IKEA wants to take furniture to the next level with virtual design consultants and an artificial intelligence bot
IKEA is focusing on remote interior design by training its call center operators, training them as interior design consultants. The Swedish furniture giant’s goal is to offer more home improvement services and answer common customer questions via an artificial intelligence bot called Billie. IKEA recently expanded its interior design services to the United Kingdom and the United States, after already launching them in Europe, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, Reuters reported.
In the UK, clients can pay around €26 for a 45-60 minute video call with an interior design consultant, who will provide product advice and recommendations, or they can opt for three workspace design consultancy sessions at the cost of 125 pounds (about 146.85 euros). In the latter case, they will also receive a floor plan and 3D images. Since 2021, Ingka, the parent company of IKEA, has trained 8,500 call center workers as interior design consultants. Meanwhile, Billie, the artificial intelligence bot inspired by IKEA’s popular Billy bookstore, handled 47% of customer inquiries to call centers over the past two years.
“Artificial intelligence will not reduce staff” promises the company
Ulrika Biesert, global head of people and culture at Ingka Group, said the company is committed to improving the employability of its employees through continuous learning, professional development and retraining, thus helping to create new jobs . When asked if the increased use of artificial intelligence could mean a reduction in staff, Biesert replied that telephone or video sales through the remote interior design service represent 3.3% of total sales. Ingka revenues in 2022, corresponding to 1.3 billion euros.
Ingka Group said it plans to increase this percentage to 10% by 2028, in order to attract future Generation Z customers . By way of comparison, online sales of products through the Ingka-owned IKEA website accounted for approximately 25% of total sales in the last financial year ended 31 August 2022, corresponding to approximately 9.9 billion EUR. This investment in digital services is part of IKEA’s expansion in the United States, which foresees an investment of 2 billion euros. Competitor Wayfair also recently launched a ‘Digital Design Studio’ in its stores, where customers can experiment with furniture styles and arrangements through a digital representation of a room.
According to Jocelyn Paulley, a technology lawyer and co-lead of the retail sector team at Gowling WLG in London, it is not surprising that IKEA is focusing on virtual sales channels, but rather surprising that it is lagging behind other players of the sector. These virtual services require substantial investments to ensure that the colors, textures and sizes of items are accurately represented while minimizing the possibility of customer returns.