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International expansion through flexible replication: Learning from the internationalization experience of IKEA

Anna Jonsson and Nicolai J Foss
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Anna Jonsson: Department of Business Administration, School of Economics and Management, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
Nicolai J Foss: 1] Department for Strategic Management and Globalization, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark[2] Department of Strategy and Management, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen, Norway

Journal of International Business Studies, 2011, vol. 42, issue 9, pages 1079-1102

Abstract: Business organizations may expand internationally by replicating a part of their value chain, such as a sales and marketing format, in other countries. However, little is known regarding how such “international replicators” build a format for replication, or how they can adjust it in order to adapt to local environments and under the impact of new learning. To illuminate these issues, we draw on a longitudinal in-depth study of Swedish home furnishing giant IKEA, involving more than 70 interviews. We find that IKEA has developed organizational mechanisms that support an ongoing learning process aimed at frequent modification of the format for replication. Another finding is that IKEA treats replication as hierarchical: lower-level features (marketing efforts, pricing, etc.) are allowed to vary across IKEA stores in response to market-based learning, while higher-level features (fundamental values, vision, etc.) are replicated in a uniform manner across stores, and change only very slowly (if at all) in response to learning (“flexible replication”). We conclude by discussing the factors that influence the approach to replication adopted by an international replicator.

Date: 2011
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