IKEA deploys AI-powered bot to manage customer queries to call centres

IKEA is expanding its range of services by training call centre workers to become interior design advisers, as the company aims to offer more home improvement solutions, Reuters news report said.
IKEA and technology investmentTo handle routine customer queries, IKEA has introduced an artificial intelligence (AI) bot called Billie. In addition to its existing launches in Europe, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and other regions, IKEA has recently extended its interior design services to the United Kingdom and the United States.

Customers in the UK can avail a 45-60 minute interior design advice video call and receive a suggested product list for £25 ($31.44). They also have the option to pay £125 for three workspace design consultations, including a floorplan and 3D visuals.

Since 2021, Ingka, the parent company of IKEA, has trained 8,500 call centre workers to become interior design advisers. Concurrently, the AI bot Billie, named after IKEA’s Billy bookcase range, has handled 47 percent of customer queries to call centres in the past two years.

Ulrika Biesert, the global people and culture manager at Ingka Group, stated that the company is committed to enhancing the employability of its co-workers through continuous learning, development, reskilling, and the creation of new jobs. Biesert also mentioned that there is currently no indication of a reduction in headcount due to the increased use of AI.

Ingka’s remote interior design channel, facilitating sales of products and services through phone or video, generated revenue of €1.3 billion ($1.40 billion) in the 2022 financial year, accounting for 3.3 percent of the total revenue.

Ingka Group aims to increase this share to 10 percent by 2028 to attract future Gen Z customers. In contrast, online sales through IKEA’s website, owned by Ingka, amounted to approximately €9.9 billion, constituting 25 percent of the total sales in the financial year ending on August 31, 2022.

The investment in digital services aligns with IKEA’s expansion plans in the United States, which involve a €2 billion investment. This move is in line with competitor Wayfair’s recent launch of a ‘Digital Design Studio,’ an in-store kiosk that enables shoppers to experiment with furniture styles and room layouts in a digital rendering.

Jocelyn Paulley, a technology lawyer and co-head of the retail sector team at Gowling WLG in London, remarked that IKEA’s focus on virtual sales channels is not surprising and may even be overdue. She emphasized the need for significant investment in these virtual services to ensure accurate representation of item colors, textures, and sizes, as well as to minimize returns.