Taking the train to Ikea: Extending mass transit lines to destination retailers


Ikea doesn’t advertise that much in Chicago, at least not on the billboards and other out-of-home canvases that I see in the city. Maybe they assume that they already have the market cornered, and any interested customers will seek them out anyway. Or perhaps it’s because despite having two Ikea stores in the so-called Chicagoland area, you can’t get to either one via CTA or Metra trains.

Remembering my own experience going to Ikea several years ago, it was a nightmare: first a long train ride, then a bus, and then a ridiculous mall trolley. Round trip including shopping, it was like a 12 hour endeavor — and that’s after I gave up and took a cab part of the way back. Clearly, Ikea expects its customers to own or rent a car in order to shop there.

I wonder how many customers a store like Ikea loses when it’s not accessible at all via mass transit, especially in cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco where many residents don’t own a car. (I can’t speak from direct experience in those other places, but I’m guessing there’s no train to Ikea there, either.) At a minimum, I’m guessing that the customers who do make it to the store end up shopping there less frequently, and spending less money, than they would if the store was conveniently accessible by train.

With mass transit systems always in search of more funding, there’s a natural opportunity here. Big, well-funded retailers like Ikea could strike a deal to extend the existing rail lines directly to their stores. Or, several big retailers in a given area could team up to lobby for the rail extension, and help share the costs. Sure, this would be expensive and have a long timeline to completion. But it’s not like building a megastore is fast or cheap in the first place, and these companies manage to pull that off just fine.

Thinking about the amount of customers that Ikea and other destination stores would bring in with a direct train route, I have to believe they’d make a ton of additional revenue and profits from this type of investment. Believe it or not, carless people need furniture, too.