The translation of the Swedish word ömsesidig means “reciprocal” or “mutual” in English. It is also the name chosen by Ikea to baptize the first collection that the Swedish company will make available to its customers from noon this Thursday, when they open the doors of their first warehouse in Bogotá. It is a concept that combines low prices and Nordic design furniture: functional products, designed for small spaces and easy to assemble and disassemble. The landing of the popular chain in Latin America, however, has not been easy. And the reception in the Dominican Republic (2010), Puerto Rico (2021), Mexico (2021) and Chile (2022), the first stops in the region, has been more timid than predicted by the brand’s followers.
The dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Finis Terrae University of Chile, Felipe Assadi, says that in his country logistical errors were mixed with idiosyncratic features. He remembers that Ikea opened its first store in August 2022 in Santiago: “It opened badly. Without fanfare, in a small store where for a long time almost nothing was available. Then they opened a much larger one on the periphery, but the damage to the Ikea effect had already been done.” Assadi was one of the four Chilean designers who participated, with a candle lamp, in the catalog that was to accompany that launch.
Construction workers carry out the last tasks before the inauguration.Chelo Camacho
The collection that Ikea debuts this Thursday in Colombia with more than 20 products took a long time to reach the southern cone. The presentation in society of the Swedish company founded in 1943 “lost its grace,” says Assadi, without the accompaniment of an essential element to join a new continent such as the contribution of local artists and designers: “This collection did not reach Chile , which distances itself from the sobriety of Ikea, greatly rescuing the colors of the most popular regions of the continent. Very associated with the festival, celebration and a series of folkloric rites,” explains the dean.
Another obstacle to starting up, according to the academic, is related to a certain prejudice among Chilean consumers towards a store that advertises with really cheap prices. There was some apprehension, supported by the experience of modest local manufacturing, that cheap products could end up being expensive, he says. A distortion of reality, in his opinion, because the invoice of Ikea products usually has an “optimal general quality. “I have things from Ikea from 20 years ago in very good condition.”
People walk through the store a day before its opening.Chelo Camacho
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In the Mexican case, the first obstacle was the health crisis. The restrictions postponed the initial launch date scheduled for October 2020 until April 2021. Once the project got underway, Mexican designer Álex Rodríguez says that Ikea’s marketing strategy caused a lot of concern in the local producer sector.
“Ikea represents, philosophically, a large part of what we do not share,” says the owner of the La Metropolitana furniture store. He refers to the fact that a significant portion of the Swedish giant’s products are produced in China: “In fact, its arrival has served to put the spotlight on quality. About the solid wood that we use. “Many people stay with us and don’t go with them because they use a lot of agglomerated materials, painted white to make them look prettier.”
From his point of view, the Nordic company has also failed to calibrate what it charges. “Prices are relatively low, but this is a region with very varied social segments, and a public, in the Mexican case, increasingly interested in promoting local design.” With more than 422 stores around the world, the first fears of local producers like Rodríguez have been dissipating: “The truth is that they have not eaten anything from our market.”
An investigation by the Peruvian portal Ojo Público spins even more finely and supports certain reservations about the “arrival of the world’s most important consumer of wood” to a continent in a phase of retreat to conserve its forests. “With its legacy of unresolved scandals in Europe, Ikea’s entry into huge new markets in Latin America is worrying,” Earthsight researcher Tara Ganesh told the Peruvian media. Its environmental organization denounced in 2021 that Ikea supplied the European market with furniture made with wood from illegal logging in Russia.
A man scans the labels of some furniture with his cell phone. Chelo Camacho
The response from the London headquarters of the company founded by Ingvar Kamprad (1926-2018) was immediate: “Ikea suppliers source raw materials and manufacture products in many countries and regions of the world. We do not specify the origin of the material for specific products, as this may vary depending on time and availability. However, we require all suppliers to source wood that meets our requirements from more sustainable sources: wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or recycled,” reads the Ojo Público investigation.
Precisely, the next country to welcome the company will be Peru. A file that completes the landing of the multinational in Latin America. With a strong participation of the Chilean Falabella – strong in Colombia and Peru – in its management, and the challenge of seducing consumers in a region in the phase of economic recovery, the Nordics will have to appeal to a cocktail that includes the ingenuity of their designs with the most open facet of their social democracy.
Rows of IKEA shopping carts, in its first Colombian branch, on September 27. Chelo Camacho
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