The furniture giant’s latest urban retail location offers a rejuvenated but familiar experience for downtown shoppers.
When I visit an Ikea store, I’m expecting a certain kind of experience. Usually, it’s an all-day excursion, complete with a pit stop for Swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice, and bookended by at least a half-hour drive from my apartment in the West end of Toronto. Until recently, Ikea rhymed with suburbia — but with urbanization increasing worldwide, the Swedish furniture giant has had to rethink their approach.
Case in point: Ikea’s “first ever urban format store in Canada,” which opened to the public on May 25. The new 66,000 sq. ft. shopping destination, dubbed Ikea Downtown Toronto, sits at the bottom of Aura — the tallest residential skyscraper in Canada — on the corner of Yonge and Gerrard, a block away from the Eaton Centre. With its selection of urban offerings, the new location remixes Ikea’s classic condition for a new retail experience that can only be described as uncanny — familiar, but different.
Though I was unable to find a shower curtain (they aren’t offered at this location), I did find many up to date and useful products — especially for the hoards of university students that live within a few blocks radius. As expected, the location seems to cater to condo-dwellers congregated in the downtown core: small-space necessities, such as single bed frames, closet systems and storage solutions are on offer — as well as a variety of house-plant paraphernalia for the city’s burgeoning population of indoor-plant parents.
Downtown Ikea’s Swedish Deli has a solid selection of grab-and-go Ikea delicacies, such as their famous $1 hot dog and the meatballs we’ve all come to know and love. However, the dining area itself is wedged into a small mezzanine between the first and second floor. Ambience aside, the convenience of grab-and-go foods cannot be overstated, especially in a space made to get customers in and out as efficiently as possible. Other Ikea favourites, such as frozen foods and Daim chocolate bars, are also available to bring home.
This location is entirely cashless, which is only fair for a store that seems almost entirely devoid of cashiers. Most point-of-sale stations are self-service, dispersed across the shopping floor — with the earliest one located only a few steps from the front entrance. This placement is convenient for shoppers who want to pick up something quickly, while a larger cash area on the second floor serves customers who wish to meander through the whole store. Payment can be made through the Ikea App for even more convenience — no wallet necessary.
A planning area complete with computers, comfy chairs and privacy curtains allows customers to plan their home’s design using Ikea’s products. This replaces suburban Ikea’s info towers, for a more residential feel that seemed cozy and more relaxed than rushed.
It’s important to note that customers planning on getting any piece of furniture larger than a table lamp will have to visit another location or arrange for home delivery. The Ikea Downtown Toronto website warns that “the majority of the 2,000 take-away products available are home furnishing accessories.” This means that items like beds, kitchen modules, tables, chairs, desks, etc. will have to be picked up elsewhere. Though all of Ikea’s more sizeable items are still available to purchase at the downtown location, the store itself doesn’t have a warehouse. Another small loss — no children’s play area here, unless you count these display kids’ items congregated on one section of the second floor. Understandably, this Ikea location more likely caters to 20-somethings than families with small children.
Overall, the brand’s incremental pivot to urban storefronts seems a welcome and approachable solution for city-dwellers, especially in a place like Toronto. Ikea managed to pack a lot of value into a small space, a quarter the size of most of their other locations. Although there may still be a few kinks to iron out, Ikea Downtown Toronto is sure to become a fixture of the area — it might just take some getting used to. IKEA.COM/CA/