Do IKEA shoppers prefer wooden buildings?

Task 3 of PerForm aims to analyze the perceptions and acceptance of urban consumers concerning the forest-based bioeconomy. Students from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) conducting their Master thesis research on this topic went to IKEA to investigate shoppers’ perceptions about wood-based products. 

IKEA is a Swedish-founded multinational group that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, home appliances and accessories. It is the world’s largest furniture retailer. The majority of the products sold in IKEA stores are wood-based. The company’s commitment to sustainable wood is shown through different initiatives for promoting responsible forestry. So IKEA seems like the perfect place to conduct a study on consumer preference for wood-based products. More broadly, this touches on a central question within PerForm. How do consumers perceive the wood-based bioeconomy?

Carolina and Emil busy conducting consumer surveys at IKEA Uppsala

Carolina Berg Rustas and Emil Nagy, two forestry students at SLU, took on the challenge to find an answer to this question. Carolina and Emil started work on their thesis in September 2018, under the supervision of Associate Prof. Cecilia Mark-Herbert. They soon devised a creative approach to answer the question on consumer preferences. Armed with questionnaires, promotion banners and lot of energy and good mood, the two students headed to the IKEA store in Uppsala, Sweden. IKEA Uppsala is one of the largest stores in the region, conveniently placed close to both Uppsala city’s urban area and rural surroundings. Shoppers of all ages and backgrounds come there, especially on the weekends, to fill up on sleek Scandinavian furniture and accessories. Carolina and Emil spent 2 days in the store managing to gather 204 responses.

The secret to their data collection success? Besides their charming personalities, the students attracted respondents by offering a 50 SEK (5 €) food coupon for the IKEA food court. Who wouldn’t want to participate in a survey when rewarded with food and coffee? This was possible due to a generous donation from the Swedish Forest Industries Federation who supported both Carolina and Emil’s research, and another master thesis focusing on Swedish students’ perceptions of bioeconomy (more details soon to come). Also, the IKEA management was very welcoming, providing the students with all facilities needed to conduct a successful survey.

First results indicate that most survey participants are not familiar with the concept of forest-based bioeconomy (71%). However, customers are more familiar with how forests store carbon and that multi-storey buildings can be built in wood. These are promising results for the wood-construction sector. In fact, Carolina and Emil’s results confirm previous studies suggesting that sustainability is a mega-trend in housing expected to gain further impetus in Nordic countries, and manifest both in the form of consumer demand for sustainable living and wood construction as a modern way of living.

Whereas this is indeed the case in Nordic countries such as Finland and Sweden, it is unclear if the same acceptance for building with wood is present among consumers in other parts of Europe. Interest in wood construction in (southern) Germany seems to be on the rise. However, more data on consumer perceptions is needed. PerForm researchers are therefore busy at work, talking to customers in IKEA stores, but also asking consumers about their bioeconomy perceptions on busy shopping streets, bustling markets and city centers across Europe.

Carolina and Emil’s results will be available once their Master thesis is published in June (the thesis will be linked on this page). PerForm researchers plan to join forces and provide a comprehensive overview of consumer perceptions of wood-based products across Europe. It is this common effort, and cooperation spirit of dedicated PerForm researchers across the continent that provides us with valuable information about societal perceptions of bioeconomy. Our two students have certainly made an important contribution to our understanding of bioeconomy.

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