Although it may seem implausible, IKEA is attempting to do away with parking lots.

Well, kind of.

Navigating an IKEA parking lot — an infernal place populated by overstuffed Volvos, grunting men, and lost monkeys — is a quintessential part of shopping at the meatball-slinging Swedish home furnishings emporium. After all, IKEA is a destination that you drive to, sometimes traveling a great distance. IKEA's car-dependent locations, typically built on the suburban fringes where land is cheap and plentiful, have always been a sticking point for a company so dedicated to environmental sustainability.

The going-to-IKEA process — for many, a trip to the store truly is a grueling, all-day process —goes something like this: Drive for 45-plus minutes, park the car, have lunch in the cafe, spend a couple of hours shopping for cheap wine glasses and guest room linens, wait in line for eternity to check out, eat a frozen yogurt, pack up the car, hit the road. The end.

However, as detailed by Bloomberg TV, the retailer is slowly but surely distancing itself from its signature sprawling parking lots by launching a pilot program that explores the feasibility of erecting stores that aren't plopped down in far-flung locales wedged in between highways and cornfields; stores where you can quickly pop in and out; stores that aren't surrounded by state fair-esque parking lots.

More compact (25 percent smaller) and expensive to build than its car-centric brethren in the sticks, the first experimental urban format IKEA opened to customers earlier this summer in the Altona district of Hamburg, Germany. Branded as an IKEA Citystore, the location targets shoppers who can easily get a decent amount of loot home via public transportation, foot, bike, or taxi. The Hamburg-Altona Citystore, the first IKEA outpost to be located within an urban pedestrian zone, even offers car-less customers special cargo bikes that are free to rent for the first three hours.

To be clear, the Hamburg-Altona Citystore does have some parking spots available to customers although not nearly as many as the retailer's 47 other German outposts including two additional locations in and around Hamburg. Thus far, the store's goal of attracting 60 percent of its customers by public transit, bike, or foot has been wildly successful as the car park is persistently — and refreshingly — barren.

"It is an absolute pilot project for us. We want to get closer to people and know people are consciously choosing not to have a car," explains Johannes Ferber, IKEA expansion chief for Germany. "We want to learn from this project and see what we can improve that we can then apply in other locations."

Aside from IKEA, another big big retailer that has experimented, to some degree of success, with scaled-down locations in dense urban cores is Target. The Minneapolis-based retailer launched its CityTarget format in 2012 with locations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland, Ore. Target has since aimed even smaller with the introduction of a TargetExpress concept store in Minneapolis this summer.

It's also worth mentioning an IKEA store sporting both an oversized parking lot and a range of alternative transportation options (free shuttle buses connecting the store to nearby subway stations, a water taxi service, a public bus stop right out front, dedicated car-sharing spots, etc.) that already exists in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. As someone who lives right up the road from IKEA Brooklyn, I can tell you that although the parking lot might not always be a madhouse, the line for home delivery service is consistently insane.

Again, the thought of going to IKEA sans car might not register for some. But for those looking to make smaller/more frequent trips to the retailer or even just popping by just for a quick lunch, the urban IKEA concept makes a whole lot of sense. What do you think?

Via [Bloomberg], [Reuters]

Promo image: Anna B/Flickr

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Long confined to the exurbs, IKEA experiments with bringing stores closer to town
Visit a German IKEA store where city-dwelling shoppers are encouraged to schlep their purchases back home without the assistance of a car.