Ikea’s surprise acquisition of gig-economy app Task Rabbit shows that the furniture retailer is prepared to make radical decisions as it speeds up the way it adapts to changing consumer shopping behaviour.
Task Rabbit is a home services app which matches up people who need odd jobs doing with people prepared to do them for an agreed price, and putting together Ikea flat-pack furniture is one of the most sought after services on the app.
Currently Ikea offers assembly through third-party companies, but the service has suffered from low customer awareness, and is not integrated into the purchase process – shoppers must make a separate transaction after passing through the tills.
Ikea’s size often appears to inhibit its ability to adapt to changing customer needs, for example its adoption of so-called omnichannel retailing has been painfully slow – its smaller format stores that it has been trialling for two years in the UK have only recently allowed customers to collect online orders.
The move to acquire Task Rabbit suggests a company that is more ready to embrace change, and perhaps hints at further changes to the way it operates to eliminate customer pain points when shopping the Ikea way.
Ikea is reacting to the shift in customer behaviour from “do-it-yourself” to “do-it-for-me”, which has had a major impact on the DIY market in the UK – it has shrunk by £1bn since its peak in 2004.
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Ikea customers consistently complain about the assembly process in our market research, as they do about the self-service search for anonymous brown boxes in the warehouse area – perhaps Ikea will eventually look to eliminate this in the future, and could feasibly use Task Rabbit’s technology to do so.
It could also use the app to attempt to improve its delivery offer, matching up van drivers with customers.
One area of caution for Ikea will be the terms on which contractors are engaged on the platform.
Other gig-economy apps such as Uber have undergone extreme criticism for alleged poor treatment of the people who use the platform to earn money. IKEA prides itself on ethical treatment of employees, and was one of the first major retailers to guarantee staff the Living Wage in the UK.
It may plan to operate Task Rabbit as a separate entity, but that will not absolve it of responsibility for the way that contractors who use the app are treated, or indeed the experiences of those that hire them.