IKEA Sees Sustainable Plan In Secondhand Furniture

IKEA is making its Buy Back & Resell program permanent across its 37 U.S. stores following a pilot last summer.

The service applies only to used IKEA furniture that is fully assembled and functional. Acceptable products include office drawer cabinets, bookcases, small tables, dining tables, desks and chairs and stools without upholstery. IKEA will not take back beds, sofas, mattresses, home furnishing accessories, leather products or lighting fixtures.

The retailer will sell the items in its As Is in-store sections that also stock discontinued items and ex-showroom displays.

“I like the idea of retailers owning their resale markets more,” wrote Melissa Minkow, director of retail strategy at CI&T, in an online discussion by the RetailWire BrainTrust last week. “From a customer-relationship perspective, it keeps shoppers in the brand’s ecosystem post-purchase, which can be especially hard to accomplish in a category such as furniture. If IKEA could own the logistical piece of retrieving the item back, this would be even better. Either way though, this is additional customer data the retailer gets to own.”

Used furniture sellers earn an IKEA store credit. In the U.K. and Ireland where the program has been rolled out, sellers receive between 30 to 50 percent of the original price.

The program aligns with IKEA’s goal to become climate positive by 2030.

“IKEA has often been at the cutting edge of sustainability for such a large organization,” wrote Katie Thomas, lead at Kearney Consumer Institute. “This solves multiple consumer needs, including making furniture more affordable for both the buyer and seller and helping individuals meet their own sustainability goals.”

For some on RetailWire’s BrainTrust, the sustainability element was not the most significant part of the initiative.

“This is a good thing for IKEA to do,” wrote Doug Garnett, president of Protonik. “I doubt that it will have either a negative or positive impact on their financials — but that’s not the reason to do it. In truth, I’m more interested in how it creates a secondary market that will help people with less means, than I am in the green part of the initiative. But it’s a good idea.”

“I would approach this as a customer benefit and not just a sustainability initiative,” wrote Lucille DeHart, principal at MKT Marketing Services. “Home pickup would be something customers would appreciate and perhaps could be aligned with an online purchase. I would also assume that margin management will become an issue as will brick-and-mortar space to accommodate a resell section. Knowing that IKEA conducted a test and is now rolling it out would mean that they can scale this successfully, so I am excited to keep watching.”

For some on the BrainTrust, the verdict was yet in on how well this will work.

“This concept has a high degree of volume uncertainty associated with it,” wrote Bob Amster, principal at Retail Technology Group. “Initially it will be hard to predict how much volume the model will attract and, consequently, how and where to process and store such buybacks. Maybe over time the volume will become more stable and predictable — and maybe it never will.”

In the soft goods space, Levi’s, Patagonia, The North Face, Madewell, Allbirds, Fabletics and Eileen Fisher are among those recently launching initiatives that let customers return items for store credit. The programs come as Gen-Z’s passion for sustainability is supporting strong growth across a wide range of apparel resale platforms, including ThredUp, The RealReal, Poshmark and Depop.

“I have three ‘older’ children and they haven’t bought anything new in years,” wrote Lee Peterson, EVP of thought leadership and marketing at WD Partners. “Gens A, Z and Y; they all really get re-commerce for its many benefits. Now if we can get Boomers on board, the mission will be complete.”

Other places currently selling used furniture include the Kaiyo online marketplace and its competitors, AptDeco and Chairish, as well as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Some on the BrainTrust saw this concept continuing to be used — or reused — throughout the retail landscape.

“I think we’ll continue to see that ‘one man’s trade will be another man’s treasure’ across a variety of expensive items like furniture, outdoor gear, luxury clothing, etc.,” wrote Natalie Walkley, director at enVista & Enspire Commerce OMS.

However, not everyone saw IKEA as a good fit for the resale market.

“I love IKEA but, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t consider their furniture to be especially durable,” wrote Gary Sankary, retail industry strategy at Esri. “I don’t think anyone expects to pass along their IKEA bookshelf and table to the next generation.”