IKEA’s announcement that it plans to build and develop at least 100 budget hotels across Europe got me wondering as to what might have inspired them in this new business venture.
Although the idea has germinated in Europe, perhaps it was first seeded in China where the country’s new middle class appear to enjoy without fear nor favour IKEA’s modern and comfortable retail environment.
So much so, in fact, that many of IKEA’s Chinese customers don’t actually buy much (if any) furniture, but use the in-store beds and sofas to take a quick nap. They can even fall into a ‘rapturous sleep’, as one Sina Weibo netizen described it.
Such free dormitory facilities are truly a ‘budget’ hotel model, albeit one that doesn’t cost Chinese customers anything except perhaps the indignity of having their photos taken while asleep. But what the hell, that’s a small price to pay for a free bed that serves a basic human need. IKEA should take a benign view and see the sleepers as ‘dormant’ shoppers trialling the product in a way that synchs with their Circadian rhythms.
Sleeping on the furniture is a type of in-store ‘experience’ that has been given its own hybrid label by marketers in the retail industry: ‘retailtainment’. McDonald’s also practices a form of it by offering free wi-fi and clean toilets, for example. Other mega-stores do too.
For IKEA in China, retailtainment has gone into overdrive. It’s been known for quite some time that their Chinese customers are accustomed to taking full advantage of the freebies thoughtfully provided by the big box retailer.
China’s middle-aged citizens – who one might expect are some of IKEA’s most dormant shoppers – actually enjoy in extremis the complimentary coffee and cafeterias provided by the retailer.
The ulterior motive behind hordes of them congregating in IKEA is romance (another human need but rather higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy than physiological safe sleeping). Most dormant shoppers want to find a life-time partner although others might only seek temporary assignations.
“They get real noisy and take up all the seats” said IKEA’s Shanghai-based PR officer. The company brought this affliction upon itself when it established a local Home Lovers’ Club in 2007 which has since attracted over one million members.
Possibly IKEA can take romance as its inspiration for their next business venture, targeting a middle-aged demographic.
Instead of reluctantly providing free coffee and table space in cafeterias to rowdy old people, they should consider speed-dating community centres (subscription-only) or PG-rated love motels under another brand name, as with their European budget hotels.
All furnished, of course, with those lovely branded IKEA beds.