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How the new IKEA Paris City Store was Conceptualized with Brain-pleasing Marketing

By Lluis Martínez-Ribes

How the new IKEA Paris City Store was Conceptualized with Brain-pleasing Marketing

Over the last decades, IKEA has successfully developed the same retail concept worldwide: big blue stores located in relatively inexpensive sites away from the city center. But five social trends disrupted that traditional location: 1) urbanization -an increasing number of people living in cities 2) public transportation improvement and new possibilities in urban mobility 3) increasing concern for the sustainability of the planet 4) a large majority of people owning an e-body (smartphone) and 5) time usage is perceived as an important friction factor in the shopping experience.

The result is clear: many retail chains are opening smaller stores in more costly locations within cities. This was the case in Paris, where IKEA opened its new store next to the Church of La Madeleine, in the upmarket Rive Droite. When conceptualizing this store, one of the main challenges was scale; even though IKEA aims to help customers furnish their entire homes, this 5,400 m2 store could not hold everything a typical IKEA store has to offer. So, out of its comfort zone, IKEA France chose to use brain-pleasing marketing methods (with the support of our agency m+f=!) and create a new retail concept for a city center.


The conceptualization of any new retail concept should not start by looking at the competitors but at the real market economy with customers as the key arbiters. That is why when devising the new city store concept, we placed the focus on Parisians. We empathized with these citizens and their daily lives via the support of a Parisian sociologist and then using our brain-pleasing retail methods.

During a co-creation process between the management team of IKEA France and our agency m+f=!, we listened to Parisians and tried to understand their motivations and perceptions. Sociologists have no hesitation in saying that Paris intra-muros, the city “walled in” by the périphérique that rings the city, has a very different resident profile from that of its suburbs and the rest of France. Homes are much smaller, with rapidly decreasing car ownership,  there is more rented accommodation, fewer people per household, fewer children per family, more purchasing power, higher expenses – which is why there are hardly any student dwellings – and additionally, these residents also vote differently to the rest of the country. The project team and the m+f=! team analyzed all the above and, particularly, the key segments living in Paris: their profile, everyday lives, family environment
and their key pain-factors. Attention was not only paid to objective factors, but also to their approach and attitudes towards everyday life in this city.

A store will be a commercial success when visiting customers perceive themselves to be reflected by it, as if in a “mirror”. In this way, a new store in a new location will not be considered to be an intruder, but instead welcomed as “one of us”. That is “retail-applied empathy”.


What did IKEA change? The most outstanding feature of the store is its proximity to public transport- only 10 meters from the Madeleine metro station. However, there are also a range of other key transformations; e.g. visitors do not have to follow the mandatory IKEA pathway. Instead, they non-consciously follow a sequence of themed zones which are divided according to their main purpose (the art of dreaming, the art of living together, the art of cooking and the art of storage) and other service areas (including the ‘Swedish on the Go’ restaurant and the Atélier). This was the first IKEA city store with a comprehensive portfolio. Due to the limited space, the product range on display is accordingly smaller. However, since this is an “OnOff” retail model, customers can access the complete catalog using their e-bodies: they can scan a product QR code and then receive more detailed information on their device. The staff proactively move around -with a tablet- helping those visitors who need extra support. The typical IKEA warehouse zone has disappeared. Now customers can choose the small items, pay for them and leave the store, while larger item are delivered to their homes using sustainable transport methods.

What did IKEA maintain? The products are the same, but the displayed items have been tailored to suit the taste of Parisian customers. They are presented in room settings, as this presentation is intrinsic to the brand’s DNA. And, IKEA continues to demonstrate, and now emphasize as never before, its creative talent for making the most of a small space-something critical for so many Parisian apartments.

Parisians have responded: 25,000 people visited the store on its opening day, and now turnover is tracking 25% above budget. This is the best-selling city store in the IKEA world.


Firstly, the new IKEA Paris store is a bi-branded store concept. On the one hand, even though the new store is very different to the traditional IKEA “big boxes’, it retains IKEA’s DNA. On the other hand, in order to be brain-pleasing, it is fully inspired by the daily lives of Parisians, so it reflects Paris’ DNA too. This makes it the first bi-branded IKEA store in the company: IKEA and Paris brands blended.

Secondly, as Parisians are “OnOff” customers, this store is the epitome of “OnOff” retail, which goes beyond omnichannel.

Final thoughts

Neuromarketing -market research based on neuroscience (ET, EEG, FC, etc.)- is of great use to test an already existing entity (e.g. a new commercial, packaging, etc.).

However, neuroscience can also be applied more strategically: using “brain-pleasing marketing”. This consists firstly of conceptualizing something that will please the customer’s brain and prompting them to build a positive sentiment towards the brand. So, customers will end up saying: “I don’t know why, but I love this brand!”

Crafting the new IKEA Paris store concept would not have been possible with traditional neuroresearch techniques. 

This article was originally published in the Neuromarketing Yearbook. Order your copy today