3 things you can learn from IKEA’s customer culture

Home 3 things you can learn from IKEA’s customer culture

“The most dangerous poison is the feeling of achievement. The antidote is to every evening think what can be done better tomorrow.” – Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA

In my brand new book A Diamond in the Rough, I write about companies with cultures that put the customer at the heart of everything they do. One of the most fantastic examples of a CX oriented company culture is without a doubt IKEA. It’s no coincidence that – since it’s foundation in 1943 – it was able to grow (and stay) into one of the biggest love brands in the world. And that’s because everything begins and starts with people – both customers and coworkers – at IKEA.


Here are three things you can learn from their customer culture.

Togetherness: build a community of enthusiastic customers

The lovely concept of “Togetherness” is the very first of IKEAs 8 core values:

  1. Togetherness
  2. Cost-consciousness
  3. Renew and improve
  4. Give and take responsibility
  5. Caring for people and planet
  6. Simplicity
  7. Different with a meaning
  8. Lead by example

In fact, when IKEA describes its culture, the terms together and togetherness are always found front and center. Everybody is equally important, everyone must be listened to and be able to make a contribution. The term does not just apply to co-workers but includes its customers and suppliers as well. So it makes perfect sense that IKEA proves to be very proficient at creating a feeling of community among its customers.

One of its most successful community endeavors is the IKEA Family. At first sight it seems to be a pretty basic free membership program for customers who want to enjoy exclusive benefits like product discounts, select delivery options, special offers as well as free coffee and tea instore.

But there are also less obvious advantages, like the 90-day price protection: if any of the items bought go on sale within 90 days of purchase, members are eligible for a refund of the difference. Or the Interior Design service, where interior architects and experts can help IKEA Family members with advice about their dream interior.

But, as I explain in A Diamond in the Rough, the very best way to create a strong customer community via memberships, is through connection: where members meet either physically or online. When this bond between members is facilitated by the company this can enhance loyalty to the company. And that’s exactly what IKEA does with its free workshops and live events for the IKEA Family members, where they can earn home furnishing knowledge, tips, and skills.

Expand your circle of influence

IKEA wants to be a force for positive change and has a comprehensive sustainability strategy. It is committed to becoming climate positive by 2030 by reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than its value chain emits. It also is in the process of ensuring that all products can be reused, refurbished, remanufactured and eventually recycled with circular product design principles.

IKEA is also dedicated to creating a positive social impact for everyone across its value chain. Seeing that child labour is not uncommon in the textile and furniture industry, it worked with UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, to combat it. It does so in a highly strategic way that enables to change the entire system, instead of just indulging in charity. In India’s carpet belt in Uttar Pradesh, it for instance supported women’s self-help groups, where women jointly saved money and helped each other start up in business. Once mothers had a better chance to support themselves and their families, their children could go to school instead of working. Through IKEA and IKEA Social Initiative, millions of children have had the opportunity to go to school rather than work in cotton fields and rug factories.

The IKEA Foundation sometimes also changes directions to put its efforts where they are most needed. And today, the activities mostly focus on areas like the climate, water, and the ability for families to support themselves. The foundation aims to combat fundamental causes of inequality such as poverty, the consequences of climate change, and a lack of resources like clean air, energy and fertile land.

I love how in each one of the IKEA ESG endeavors, there is always a strong link with its core business. Its “As-is” market, for instance, merges its IKEA family community ‘togetherness’ concept, with its vision of selling affordable furniture for all. The concept is a win-win: IKEA Family members who want to get rid of furniture, can ‘sell’ it back for store credits, while those who are struggling with lesser budgets, can still afford the furniture in a cheaper format: not just preloved products, but also discontinued items and ex-showroom displays.


At the entrance of IKEA Museum in Älmhult, the home and birthplace of IKEA, there is a photo of IKEA Founder Ingvar Kamprad. It seems like a regular enlarged portrait, at first, but when you look closer, it is made up of 5000 tiny portraits of his co-workers. The term ‘co-worker’ is actually chosen over ‘employee’ at IKEA, because it is much more egalitarian and collegial. The photo expresses a simple message: IKEA is not a one-man show but a team effort, where everyone is an empowered piece of the puzzle.

IKEA has a reputation for providing a very human, family-feeling type of working environment, with a high amount of psychological safety. Appreciation of the positive is rewarded. Speaking up is encouraged. Co-workers are in fact even encouraged to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. One of the company’s mottos is, “Only when you are sleeping you are not making mistakes.”

IKEA coworkers are empowered to make decisions in favour of the customers. I love how the founder Kamprad believed that there are no “right” decisions but that the energy put into it determines whether or not it’s right. He designed a culture of freedom and responsibility – Give and take responsibility is actually one of IKEA’s 8 values – where no one should hide behind the decisions made by others. He believed that if people could provide a clear ‘why’ behind something they wanted to do, the company encouraged them to go and try it. And this trust and empowerment is clear on all levels of the company. Store workers, too, have the freedom to make decisions to address issues in the moment.

If you want to learn more about building a successful customer culture, read my brand new book A Diamond in the Rough.