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CEO Jesper Brodin said the reopening of the Swedish retail industry giant and world’s largest furniture retailer has been “an effort in crowd control.”

As a non-essential business, IKEA had to close about 80% of its 433 physical stores in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. As it reopens stores, the top furniture retailer is finding that being under quarantine has given consumers an appetite for home improvements. Pent-up demand, along with social distancing and store occupancy limits, are resulting in massive queues and hours-long wait times at IKEA stores around the globe.

The run on IKEA started in China, which was among the first to ease restrictions, having gone into lockdown earlier than other countries. The last IKEA store to reopen there, on April 21, was the Wuhan location. Chinese shoppers have not only turned out in droves. They are also buying higher-end items, according to Jesper Brodin, Chief Executive of Ingka Group, the biggest IKEA franchisee with 374 stores. The group also owns the IKEA-centric shopping malls known as Ingka Centres, and Ingka Investments.

Shoppers in Europe proved equally enthusiastic, particularly in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. IKEA stores opened earlier than most in Austria, on May 2. In Switzerland, doors opened on May 11. Germany took a phased approach by region, starting April 22 and opening the last handful of stores on May 13. All three have strict limits on the number of people permitted in stores at the same time.

IKEA is also seeing an uptick in online sales. These figures were already on the rise prior to the pandemic, up by 43% last year compared with 2018, comprising 10-11% of IKEA’s total sales. On peak days of the lockdown this grew to 60% of global sales. The jump in online sales enabled IKEA to start bringing back furloughed employees in the U.S. to handle online orders and customer service. The retail industry heavyweight started reopening physical stores there in early June.

Brodin believes more shopping will continue to go online, despite the big turnout of European shoppers at newly reopened stores. Surveys in Europe support this view, indicating that even after the pandemic subsides, the number of consumers shopping for furniture online will continue to grow. At the same time, Brodin plans to continue expanding IKEA’s chain of Ingka Centres, of which it currently has 45 in Europe, China and Russia.

IKEA also plans to continue its push for greater environmental sustainability, and to do so ahead of its rivals. The furniture retailer plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by more than its supply chain emits, thereby making it “climate positive”, by 2030. This includes an investment of €2.2 billion ($2.5 billion) in renewable energy on the part of Ingka Group. The Economist reports that as Brodin sees it, this only makes business sense as consumers grow increasingly climate conscious.

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