IKEA’s Best-Selling Product Is Not a Piece of Furniture
With over 1 billion units sold, this tiny item outsells all others
Ikea’s loss-leader strategy might be the secret to their success in persuading consumers to make the purchase before they leave the store.
Dave Chappelle has a moment in his Netflix special, Equanimity, where he gives the punchline to a joke at the very beginning — and still guarantees a laugh when you finally hear the joke.
It got me thinking. Spoilers or not, some stories are so good, even if you know the ending, you’ll still want to hear it.
What if I told you that Ikea’s most successful product is not a piece of furniture? It’s a meatball.
In late April, deep into the COVID-19 lockdown, IKEA released a set of instructions on their twitter and the internet went crazy.
However, these weren’t normal instructions, they were a recipe for their famous Swedish meatballs, for everyone to cook at home.
A lot of my friends were cooking them on social media or were overwhelmed at the idea of this secret being exposed.
I started looking into whether this cult hit was as popular as the internet made it feel, and I was shocked at the numbers.
The Unreal Sales Figures
IKEA sells a whopping 150 million meatballs per year, dwarfing the sales of its top furniture product, the “Billy” bookcase.
“Billy,” as it’s come to be known, is claimed to be the most commercially successful piece of modern furniture with more than 110 million Ikea Billy bookcases sold since its inception 40 years ago.
However, with over one billion meatballs sold, the meatballs sell at a rate that’s almost 22 times greater than the Billy each year. 150 million units, compared to Billy’s measly 7 million units.
From a business and marketing perspective, this is fascinating. A furniture store’s number one product isn’t furniture at all. You just couldn’t write this s**t.
Why Do They Sell Food in the First Place?
IKEA’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, held the hypothesis that hungry customers were distracted customers, but if they were sufficiently satiated, they’d be likely to shop for longer — thus buying more.
Initially tested in 1958, when IKEA opened cafes in their stores, this long-held belief is still part of IKEA’s core strategy today.
Gerd Diewald, who runs IKEA’s U.S. food operations says, “When you feed, they stay longer, they can talk about their purchases, and they make a decision without leaving the store.”
Losing Money on Purpose: Strategic Loss
IKEA’s policy is to try and be the cheapest meal within a certain radius of the store, even if it means selling at a loss.
In business and marketing terms, this is known as a loss-leader.
This strategy reinforces your cheap prices in customer’s minds and serves as brand awareness for the customers that don’t convert the first time.
If you buy an IKEA meal today for £5, IKEA makes a loss, but you may also purchase £1,000 worth of furniture, so this offsets the loss of revenue on the food you ordered.
For those customers that buy the meal but don’t buy anything else, IKEA uses that loss as marketing towards future purchases. Customers will remember having a great deal at IKEA on food and won’t be averse to coming back again when they do need to make a homeware purchase in the future.
Although this tactic works, it doesn’t suit companies with shallow pockets, so be wary about copying it.
Are We Destined for a New Era of “Business Fusion”?
Like the trend of food-fusion, or mixing cuisines from around the world, IKEA’s success may have cemented a new era of “business fusion.”
I preach to my clients all of the time about the importance of branding, consistency, and correct targeting — but IKEA’s sales outside of their wheelhouse might be a lesson to all of us. Even me.
As retail sales slowly move online, brick and mortar businesses will need to adapt, using their expensive retail locations in unique ways, or sharing the real-estate with food and beverage franchises.
Businesses have already combined with complimenting services to maximise revenue. We just don’t notice it that often.
We can already see:
Homeware stores with restaurants.
Book stores with coffee shops attached.
Local convenience stores with post-offices.
Supermarkets with in-house photo services.
The list goes on.
Each player in the market is working hard to satiate their customer's needs and keep their undivided attention.
Time is money and if they’re not browsing your store, they’re potentially spending their money in someone else's.
I’m not saying meatballs will be the secret marketing technique for your business, but it is food for thought (pun intended).