Japanese flock to Ikea

Ikea boss Anders Dahlvig said Monday the Swedish furniture giant was confident of cracking Japan on its second attempt as thousands of customers flocked to its new store east of Tokyo.

Ikea opened the doors to one of its biggest stores, spanning 40,000 square metres (430,000 square feet), with 10,000 product lines, 2,200 car parking spaces, a child-care area and one of Tokyo’s largest restaurants.

The new store, in Ikea’s trademark blue and yellow colours, marks Ikea’s return to the world’s second-largest retail market after it withdrew 20 years ago having failed to win over Japan’s notoriously finicky consumers.

“I think last time in the 1970s it was way too early to come to Japan,” said Dahlvig, Ikea group president and chief executive.

He said that Ikea did not have operations in Asia at that time to provide an adequate supply network.

“I think it was a big mistake probably for Ikea to launch in Japan that early. And it was the right decision to leave and wait until we are ready. Now we felt we are ready,” he told reporters at the Funabashi store.

This time privately-owned Ikea is focusing on small space living after visiting more than 100 local homes to study the layout and Japanese lifestyles.

A second store is already being built near Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, and Ikea aims to open a dozen in total by 2011 if it can find the right sites.

A long line of customers queued up outside the new store for the opening and 15,000 people had passed through the doors within the first four hours.

The prices are certainly competitive compared to other well-known furniture retailers such as Muji, the “no brand” homeware retailer.

“I had an image that Scandinavian furniture was expensive. But I was so surprised that prices were cheaper than I thought,” said Fukuko Fukamachi, 35, who was visiting the shop with her husband.

However, whether Japanese consumers used to smaller stores and attentive service will adapt to Ikea’s mammoth outlets and self-assembly furniture remains to be seen.

“The shopping system is not something Japanese customers are used to. So it needs more explanation signs which customers can easily recognize,” said Kayoko Ito, a 29-year-old office worker.

“But the layout of the shop is well organized so that children won’t get bored,” she added.