Learn IKEA’s Secret Sales Tool That’s Right Under Your Nose
Updated: Jun 29
IKEA has a secret weapon.
It’s not the flat-pack product. It’s not the winding, guided showroom experience. It’s not the contemporary style at an affordable price. Although those are all components of their success.
No, IKEA’s secret weapon is round, made of ground beef and pork, and tastes delicious with lingonberry sauce.
It’s the Swedish meatball, for which IKEA recently shared the recipe so you can make them yourself.
My favourite reply is “I got to the end of the recipe and there were still three screws left over.”
Founded by a 17-year-old Swede named Ingvar Kamprad in the 1940s, IKEA has been an aggressively innovative company on their way to becoming the world’s largest furniture retailer, and making the Kamprad family billionaires.
Did you know IKEA is spelled in all capital letters because it is an acronym that stands for Ingvar Kamprad (the founder) Elmtaryd (the farm Kamprad grew up on) Agunnaryd (Kamprad’s hometown)? Source: Dictionary.com
They’ve created cultural icons like the Billy bookcase, found in dorm rooms, nurseries, living rooms, and offices around the world. It’s their most popular piece of furniture. According to The New York Times, a Billy bookcase is sold every 10 seconds.
But even more popular than the price conscious, reliable storage system is their meatball.
IKEA sells 150 million meatballs per year. That’s 50 times more meatballs than Billys.
A furniture retailer’s top seller is a meatball?
So what? What does selling a ton of meatballs have to do with their success?
Reason #1: Hungry Shoppers are Distracted Shoppers
When you’re deep in the showroom maze and your stomach starts to grumble, you start thinking about where you’re going to grab a snack or your next meal.
If you came for a few specific items, you’re more likely to rush your shopping trip and only buy those couple items, and IKEA misses out on all the extras that get tossed on the average order like candles and throw pillows and house plants and linens.
You might note that Costco is another store where you almost never leave with only what you came for. Guess what? They also make sure you have snacks, with their free samples on the ends of a few aisles.
IKEA wants your shopping trip to be an experience. You should linger. You should sit on sofas and pull on drawers.
If you’re hungry, you’re distracted.
So IKEA aims to be the cheapest meal you can get within a certain radius of their store. They might even take a loss on the lunch you buy. But when it keeps you from going elsewhere, and helps you make a $1,000 purchase, it’s a well-justified loss-leader.
Reason #2: Keep the Consideration Conversation In the Store
For many families, buying larger furniture items is something that takes a bit of consideration.
Even at an affordable $499, the Ektorp sofa isn’t exactly an impulse buy.
So you might do a bit of browsing online, have a style in mind or even some specific models, then go see it and try it out in person. But the purchase often isn’t earned quite yet. Because then, especially if you have a partner to talk it over with, you go home and think about it.
Or, at least, that’s how it commonly works in other furniture stores. And those stores try to avoid you leaving and changing your mind by giving you an offer that’s “today only,” usually with an exclamation point or three.
IKEA tries to mitigate that empty-handed exit by giving you an environment to do the consideration in-store.
You can sit and have dinner with your spouse and decide which model or fabric colour will work best, and have a decision made by the time you pop that last meatball in your mouth.
Without leaving the store, you pick it out and take it home with you the same day.
It’s no coincidence that the dining area is between the showroom and the warehouse. Those three sections are placed in order of collecting options, considering them, and then selecting the winner to purchase.
So the cafeteria and their famous meatballs substitute for your table at home, encouraging you to discuss and finalize your purchase decision in-store.
How Can You Implement This?
The two things this solves is avoiding distraction to lengthen visit time, and providing a chance to make a confident decision to shorten the sales cycle.
It’s impossible to suggest how to take these ideas and apply them to your business, because every business, product, and customer is different.
But consider how you might remove all distraction from your customer experience so they can be fully present and engaged.
And consider your customers’ natural journey. What do they need to make a decision? Could you supply more information, some social proof to increase trust, or an environment away from a salesperson to have a private conversation?
Try not to be limited by what you’ve experienced, or “how it’s done” in your industry. Think hard about solving those obstacles that are losing you sales. Sometimes they can be solved with something as unassuming as a meatball.