STOCKHOLM, Sweden: Swedish furniture giant IKEA said it is training call centre workers to become interior design advisers, enabling them to offer more home improvement services.
Meanwhile, run-of-the-mill customer queries will be sent to an artificial intelligence (AI) bot, known as "Billie."
After past launches in parts of Europe, Australia and the UAE, in April, IKEA expanded its interior design services to the US, as well as in the UK, where customers pay $31.44 for a 45 to 60 minute interior design advice video call and suggested product list, or $125 for three workspace design consultations, a floor-plan and 3D visuals.
IKEA has trained 8,500 call centre workers as interior design advisers since 2021, while Billie has handled 47 percent of customers' queries to call centres over the past two years, the company said.
"We are committed to strengthening co-workers' employability in Ingka, through lifelong learning and development and re-skilling, and to accelerate the creation of new jobs," said Ulrika Biesert, global people and culture manager at the Ingka Group, the largest IKEA franchisee, as quoted by Reyters.
"That is not what we're seeing right now," Biesert said when asked if the increased use of AI was likely to lead to the company cutting staff.
IKEA's investment, worth $2 billion aimed at expanding in the US, is in line with rival Wayfair, which last month launched a 'Digital Design Studio,' which is an in-store kiosk where shoppers can digitally create images of furniture styles and room layouts.
"It is not surprising that IKEA is now focusing on virtual sales channels, if anything the surprise is that it is later than it could have been," said Jocelyn Paulley, a technology lawyer and co-head of the retail sector team at Gowling WLG in London, according to Reuters.