Ikea nearly embraces SaaS

I’m a believer in SaaS. It seems the natural evolution of computing and there are thousands of possibilities of awesome once any service becomes available via the Internet. But I’m aware of the anxiety of some companies in embracing these technologies – they have nervousness about putting confidential information on the web, or of losing control… I have more sympathy for some of these perspectives than others.

All the same, I was slightly impressed when I discovered that Ikea’s kitchen planner tool allows you to save your kitchen plans online for remote retrieval. After all, this company refused to have a webstore for years, so progress had been made…

What this app means is that you can pop into Ikea, design up a kitchen with the dubious help of their experts, and then check it again from home, in case you’ve changed your mind about something or the other. Or you can design it up from home, take it into the store for confirmation and order. You might even be able to place the order directly from home, but I’m not sure we’re at the point where people are buying kitchens without seeing them first.

So great on that front… but:

1) The application is clunky, slow, and not remotely intuitively
2) It’s a downloadable Windows application using the website only as a shared storage medium – are Flash / etc not up to the challenge?
3) The software doesn’t provide enough guidance in structuring your kitchen. You almost want Ikea to upsell to you — “have you considered that you might need a cultery drawer, sir,” or “have you really designed a kitchen without a sink, you dolt” would be handy. E-Commerce 101, surely…
4) The in-store ‘help’ is just rubbish. 4 bored looking people teaching you tricks with the application (…”oh no, the software doesn’t let you put a sink in a corner unit… that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just add it afterwards.”) I remember the days when the guys at Ikea helped you actually come to some sensible design decisions…

So, a good first step… but Ikea’s long walk into fully enabled E-Commerce has a way to go… and it does feel like they need to fix some more basic customer support issues for this hybrid experience,or people will wonder why the struggled their way through traffic, parking and crowds to actually come into the store. Unless, of course, my expectations are unreasaonbly high, and some analyst at Ikea has done the calculations and they’re happy getting the volume of trade they do by cutting prices to nothing (an entire, reasonable sized kitchen, sans appliances, costed up at a ludicrously low price…)

Oh, I’m looking at a new kitchen, btw. In case you didn’t realise. But I have had more fun than you’d expect for the first day on vacation, despite the trip to Ikea ;-)