When we interviewed Mary Lunghi, country consumer and customer insights manager at IKEA, for the inaugural issue of What the Future in 2017, the discussion focused around the need for flexible space in the home.
Fast forward to the coronavirus pandemic and we’re all feeling that in a major way. Now when she thinks What the Future, she is wondering how the fast-forward button on these trends will impact how we live, where we live.
Matt Carmichael: Our homes are currently places where we’re doing many things in different ways: more cooking, more decluttering, more working. Multiuse rooms must serve many different purposes. What’s going to stick?
Mary Lunghi: These were all trends pre-COVID-19, so having that flexibility in your home is really key. COVID-19 just accelerated and amplified the trends. But then, very quickly, desks became the new toilet paper. There is an expectation that remote working is going to stay, perhaps not at the numbers that it’s at right now, but that it will certainly be more than it was pre-COVID-19. There’s some question around gyms. What we’re seeing is that people who can’t get to a gym are also transforming their homes to allow for this sense of wellness, the sense of home as a sanctuary.
Carmichael: That has profound implications for how we organize our homes, right?
Lunghi: We’re seeing people actually taking a new look at their homes and putting it through the lens of how to adapt it to
meet their current needs. They’re finding underutilized spaces. For example, when we talk about working from home and knowing that that’s going to stick, you’ve got people who are transforming closets to a workspace or that space underneath the stairs. It gives them that ability to close it off and not see it so they have a separation from their personal life and their work life.
Carmichael: In our data, one of the things people report doing more of—more so than working, cooking, etc.—is decluttering.
Lunghi: We recently did some research within Ipsos’ Online Communities, and the majority of people’s comments about their houses are positive with “comfortable,” “clean,” “safe,” “good” and “sanctuary” at the top. This is an improvement from when we ran this study at the onset of the pandemic where we saw a much greater split between positive and negative. In the interim, people have adapted and made their homes better for themselves. The negative comments are around “messy” and “unorganized.” When we asked people how they want to feel, overwhelmingly they want to feel organized, but very few do.
Carmichael: There’s plenty of research along the idea that having control over your home environment makes you feel a little more like you have control over the rest of your life, right?
Lunghi: Disorganization is a thing that really hangs heavy for people. Now that they’re spending so much time in their home and because the home is so much more multifunctional and multipurpose, the No. 1 feeling that people desire their home to be is “comfortable.” Right behind it is “organized”—ahead of “safe” and “happy.” So it really does speak to people’s need of organization.
Carmichael: You mention people using this time for home improvement. In our data, we see many have started or completed a project and that many are doing some projects themselves rather than hiring other people. What are you seeing as trends related to DIY?
Lunghi: We’re seeing a mix of things when it comes to this DIY space. Pre-COVID-19, we were seeing a growth in services and people wanting to do less DIY. There was an emphasis on time. People were living time-starved lives. COVID-19 has come along and people are home more but they’re not necessarily having more time on their hands. People have the desire to have the service done, but the affordability can be a barrier.
Carmichael: Previously, one trend was about people moving or living in smaller spaces, from apartments to tiny homes. Do you think we’ll see a reversal of that?
Lunghi: We are seeing out-migration from the urban centers. The thought is that they’re going to suburbs, but they’re also going to smaller cities that are more affordable. We are still seeing an interest in tiny homes. I think that that trend is going to continue, but maybe it will take a little bit longer to reach any kind of critical mass. Conversely, there are people who because of this pandemic definitely wanted more space—even within urban areas. If you take New York City, for example, the rents dropped dramatically, so some people that did stay in the city who were in very small spaces are now moving up to larger places.
Carmichael: How does the retail game change? We know that IKEA had already moved toward delivery and assembly services.
Lunghi: Again, many of these trends were happening pre-COVID-19, which amplified and accelerated them. Retail was going through a major disruption. E-commerce reached a critical mass in the second quarter of 2016. Now we saw in less than a year an acceleration rate of what would have been anticipated to take two to five years. What we have learned through our research is that omnichannel is the key to success because consumers want to shop when, where and how they want. They move seamlessly between channels, so it’s a seamless integration that they’re looking for.
Carmichael: I can imagine that people miss the in-store experience, especially for a place that has invested so heavily in creating showcased retail locations.
Lunghi: In research we’ve done with Ipsos, people still do want to go to the store. In fact, when we ask people who didn’t convert after visiting our website, almost a quarter cited that they want to go to the store. They either want to see it first to touch and feel it, or they just prefer to make the purchase in the store.