SINGAPORE: Furniture giant IKEA will open on Friday (Jun 19) with strict safe distancing measures, although its food and beverage offerings and kids’ facilities will remain closed for now.
Its two outlets at Tampines and Alexandra will reduce opening hours, limit the number of people inside and close their car parks if queues get too long.
More workers will be deployed for crowd control inside and outside the building, including safe distancing ambassadors who will usher customers along and ensure they don’t bunch up.
Staff will increase the cleaning frequency to once every hour, focusing on high-touch points like seats, shopping bags and kids’ showrooms. Premises will be disinfected during closing hours.
This comes as retail outlets will open in Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, and IKEA Tampines' deputy store general manager Keith Oo told reporters on Wednesday that safety remains the priority.
NO MEATBALLS YET
The Alexandra store will open from 10am to 9pm from Sunday to Thursday, and 10am to 11pm on Friday and Saturday. The larger Tampines outlet will open from 11am to 9pm from Sunday to Thursday, and 11am to 11pm on Friday and Saturday.
IKEA will allow one person for every 10 sq m of gross floor area, as per government guidelines. Mr Oo said staff will adhere to this using people counting systems, adding that visitor capacity will be reduced by around 15 to 25 per cent.
SafeEntry, wearing of masks and temperature checks will be in place.
IKEA restaurants, bistros and its Swedish food market will only gradually open in the next two weeks, depending on crowd levels and the number of COVID-19 cases in the community.
Mr Oo said IKEA's fare attracts large crowds and so the store has decided to take a cautionary approach, although he pledged to open it "as soon as we can".
"It's such a joy to have that chicken wing or meatball in our store, but we start from an extra vigilant approach to make sure that our customers first of all need to feel safe," he said.
The children's play area will also remain closed for their safety.
In a statement on Wednesday, IKEA encouraged customers to shop online where possible and take advantage of online promotions or visit on weekdays to "avoid delays and other inconveniences".
Mr Oo said IKEA has learnt some lessons from one weekend in April, when long queues formed outside its Alexandra store ahead of the "circuit breaker".
This includes finding more efficient ways to segment the queue and ensure a smoother flow of customers into the store, he said.
CNA observed on Wednesday workers laying red cones at IKEA Tampines' vast car park to create multiple snaking lanes for customers waiting to enter.
"If there's crowd build up, we have created queue management systems in both stores to manage the expected queues," Mr Oo added.
"The other contingency that we have is that if potentially there's a lot more people that will come and try to visit us, then we will probably have to close off our parking in both locations to bring the visitation numbers down."
ONLINE SALES AND GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES
The furniture company said more than 100,000 had bought IKEA products online since the stores closed on Apr 7. E-commerce sales made up 50 per cent of what IKEA expects to earn in that period, said Mr Oo.
Online sales contributed to 10 per cent of earnings before the coronavirus outbreak, he said.
Mr Oo acknowledged that IKEA can improve how it conducts e-commerce, pointing to challenges like packing more for smaller orders and longer delivery times due to a surge in demand during the circuit breaker.
IKEA eventually switched to a company that could deliver "immediately" during that period, he said, and "that made the shopping experience a bit better ".
"To be also very honest, we weren't 100 per cent perfect with the way we delivered our e-commerce operations, but we have learnt a lot and made a lot of vast improvements throughout the couple of weeks in circuit breaker," he added.
When asked if IKEA would be returning COVID-19 government aid like Jobs Support Scheme payouts, Mr Oo said "we are using the subsidies as well to support our co-workers so everyone has a job with us".
The IKEA headquarters had said on Tuesday that it returned similar aid in Serbia and would do so in Romania, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United States.