Thousands of shoppers thronged the opening of IKEA's biggest Asian store in Beijing on Wednesday as the Swedish furniture maker launched a bid to expand its share of China's thriving home improvement market.

The store — IKEA's biggest after its Stockholm flagship — is part of a wave of expansion by retailers, both Chinese and foreign, that want to cash in amid a boom in home ownership in China.

Traditional Peking opera dancers performed outside the new IKEA outlet and crowds were held back by white metal barricades before the opening.

Inside, the scene was low-key, with shoppers strolling down wide aisles and looking at furniture and kitchen wares. It was a striking contrast to opening day in 1999 for IKEA's first Beijing outlet, when customers jammed the smaller store.

"Young people really like this 'do it yourself' style," said a young woman, Song Wei.

The store includes 430,000 square feet of showrooms, a 700-seat restaurant, a 1,200-car underground garage and a grocery store that stocks Swedish food.