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IKEA vs. Index

The omni-present Swedish giant, now planning a second Dubai store, goes head to head with Index. Think it’ll be a no contest? Maybe not; Index is a big player in Asia.

 
History
 

IKEA, also known as Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, was founded in 1943 in Sweden by 17 year old Ingvar Kamprad. He’d got a taste for selling when as a young child he bought matches in bulk and sold them on, and progressed into greeting cards and flower seeds. His IKEA project focused on furniture, and the first store was opened in 1958. It has grown into a group of international companies controlled by INGKA Holding BV, but with an incredibly complex corporate structure that baffles Kipp, frankly.

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These are both young companies, but Index is the youngest. It was formed in 1973 by Pisith Patamasatayasonthi, who started out manufacturing steel furniture for the home. It was sold under the brand name Crown through wholesalers. From 10 workers the company grew to 100, and in 1985 began to export. In the 90s it began retailing its own stuff, and in the noughties it launched IKEA-like Index Living Mall. For blazing the trail, IKEA gets the point.

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Stores
 

According to the company itself, by the close of play 2010 IKEA could boast a whopping 316 stores globally. We can assume that number is now slightly higher, if only because the Yas Island branch is on the brink of opening. The company seems to have successfully cultivated the business in every region in the world.

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In comparison, though Index Interfurn represents a number of brands, the company can only boast stores in North Cyprus, Brunei, Japan, Burma, Laos and Dubai. And Thailand, of course, where they have 17 Index Living Malls and 20 furniture centers (another store). Their stores number in the tens, not the hundreds.

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IKEA has been here a while. The first IKEA showroom set up in Dubai in 1991 on Zaabeel Road. In 1995 the company moved to Deira City Center, to a store that closed in November 2005 ahead of the opening of the huge branch at Dubai Festival City. This week it was announced that the Yas Island store is almost ready, which replaces Abu Dhabi’s Marina mall branch. It has also been revealed that IKEA and local partner Al Futtaim are planning a second Dubai outlet near the Marina and JLT.

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Index Living Mall opened in Dubai in 2009, on the basement level of Dubai Mall. Funny place for a furniture store, if you ask us, but there you go. We know of no other Index Interfurn brands that have made it to this part of the world yet.

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Quality
 

The genius of IKEA is that is actually offers a range of quality, although it doesn’t shout about it (no one wants to be seen picking up a shelf from the budget aisle, after all). Instead, there are simply cheap and practical options alongside more expensive stuff. The cheaper stuff is a bit more temporary, of course, but if you need to you can buy furniture that will last years and years.

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In Kipp’s experience, the same cannot be said of Index. The top end stuff hardly seems better than the cheap stuff, so while the designs are often cool (see cool factor) you don’t get the impression products will last forever. It’s okay, but it isn’t striking

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Service
 

Beyond a magnificently clever merging of design and functionality, there’s one other aspect of IKEA that has contributed to its success: service. Home delivery and assembly, efficient returns policy, staff who seem to know what they’re doing – it’s practically a miracle. At least it is in this part of the world.

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Kipp can only go with its own experience here, but we’ve found Index to be a bit of a nightmare. Clueless staff and not enough of them, unreliable stock and supply information, problems picking things up – buying stuff from here can be a bit of a nightmare. We’re not saying it always is, but it was for us.

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IKEA is not uncool. But it’s not particularly cool either. It used to be, before it conquered the world, bac when you would visit someone’s flat and see a cool item and ask where it came from. But now, you know where it came from because you’ve seen it at several other friends’ houses. You probably own it yourself. Everyone goes to IKEA and knows what’s in the catalogue, and that is not cool.

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At last a chance for Index to shine, and you know what? It does. Okay so lots of stuff in there is IKEA inspired, but often with a twist, and there’s plenty of stuff in there you wouldn’t find in IKEA. That means if you buy it, people will be asking where it came from, and that’s cool. Kipp bought some funky slanting shelves there, a design different to everything in IKEA, and people are always asking us about them. Does it make us cool? No, but it’s a start.

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Love them or loathe them, IKEA’s innovations in the shopping experience have changed retail forever. For example, the (in)famous IKEA restaurant, serving ridiculously cheap buffet style meals, have proved a massive hit. Maybe because it provides sustenance for shoppers as they navigate the IKEA labyrinth – a deliberate design strategy to trick people into buying more as they grab items they ‘might’ want for fear of not seeing them again. Then there are the kids crèche areas – everything done to make it easier for you to buy stuff. Brilliant.

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Having only visited an Index here in the UAE, we can’t say whether any of the mega-branches in Thailand offer the IKEA touches. We can only go by our branch, and we can tell you that it has none of them. Just a bunch of furniture in a shop, which yes, is what it’s supposed to be, and probably all it’s allowed in the Dubai Mall, but shoppers nowadays want more.

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