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We go way back. I remember spotting billboards announcing that Swedish style would be available from a new Warrington store. A few weeks later, we went to visit the shop for ourselves on a Bank Holiday Monday. We couldn't park, and we spent the entire afternoon in a seemingly endless queue before emerging with a ten-pack of lightbulbs and a duvet cover. And so my love-hate relationship with IKEA had begun.
Yeah, it's cheap. But I don't go there because it's cheap. I go there because it has a much better range of the sort of stuff I want to buy than any other shop. Or at least, it does in theory. In practice, the item I want is in two parts, and one is only in stock in Aberdeen and the other is only in stock in Cardiff.
The list of things they do better than everyone else is quite long. Millions of books must be stored on IVAR bookshelves. Their cardboard boxes are sturdier than anyone else's. They sell more different sorts of stuffed moose than any other shop in the world. That sort of thing. But the actual business of buying and putting together the neat stuff can be incredibly painful. I have seen the seventh pit of Hell, and it's IKEA midway through a Sunday afternoon. On several occasions I've said I'll never go back.
But every year the new catalogue comes out, and there are loads of new things we want. So it's back into the fray, and we go through a considerable period of trial getting to IKEA on days that the products we want are in stock, and buying them, and getting them home. Some things appear in the catalogue but never in the shop, and some things sell out, over and over again, in the hour between you ringing up for a stock check and arriving at the store. Allegedly. It can be very difficult to work out where to find small items, so you hunt round for hours, and if you forget to check the tag on a big item it can be impossible to work out where to get it except by checking with a staff member. Good luck catching one.
Queues vary, and can be immense. It's always worth checking the checkout queues before you start to shop. If you aren't going to wait 45 minutes to buy anything you might as well leave now. After the checkouts there's cheap food, because IKEA beginners are always starving by this point. We always eat halfway round, in the upstairs restaurant.
The upstairs restaurant's a bit like the store in microcosm. The food is delicious and cheap. Meatballs & potatoes for two adults and two kids, with Cokes and milks, came to under £9. As a comparison, that's less than it costs us to eat at McDonalds, for great food on proper plates with proper cutlery that both the grown-ups and the kids love. The restaurant has a play area, kid's cutlery, baby food, bottle warmers and microwaves, along with free refills on your drinks. Of course, nine times out of ten, the restaurant is packed to the gunnels, there's a queue out the door and the eating area is overflowing with debris. Luckily no-one has yet told me that I can only have 12 meatballs but the other three should be in stock on Tuesday.
Eventually, you get home with your hard-won goods, and then you have to put them together. I understand why it's cheaper to get you to build the furniture yourself, and cheaper to ship it all flat pack. But nobody has satisfactorily explained to me why it's cheaper to include instructions that have a key step missing, or why it's cheaper to have screw holes that don't line up on facing pieces of wood.
There's a key quality control stage missing here; I can't believe it's cheaper to handle complaints from people who can't follow the instructions than it would be to get the instructions right in the first place.
I bet you've all tried this already, and are just reading this to commiserate with a fellow traveller. So to finish, here are
Ten IKEA Tips Gained With Blood
1. IKEA is open till 10pm on weekday evenings. It's normally pretty empty on a Monday evening. You can shop in peace and quiet after work, and have dinner at the restaurant.
2. If you just want to get stuff from the Warehouse, think outside the box. Nip in the exit and walk backwards through the checkout. This can save you hours on a busy day.
3. Don't try to park at IKEA on the weekend. Park at the B&Q warehouse next door and walk across. This *might* only work at Thurrock, but I wouldn't bet on it.
4. If the queues are ungodly, and you just have stuff in yellow bags, don't give up before you've checked the yellow-bag-only queues. There are lots of checkouts that people with trolleys simply can't reach on a busy day.
5. If you visit for something that turns out not to be in stock, memorise its location in the Self-Serve. The next time you come, follow (2) above.
6. Delivery is disastrous; operated for IKEA by third-party companies who don't give a stuff, and it shows. Reckon to take your stuff home yourself, plan in advance, and take a van if necessary.
7. Don't take kids on a busy day. You will wait hours to get them into the children's ballroom, where they will be able to stay for 45 minutes; just long enough for you to get as far round as the coffee tables.
8. Don't be oppressed by the One True Path. You can nip through service doors to get to the bit of the shop you want to be in. Watch out for elusive staff and follow them. Mark the way back with free IKEA tape measures.
9. Don't decide to buy things from IKEA on price. If you can get a similar product for 50% more elsewhere, go for it; it's worth it to avoid all the hassle.
10. If all else fails, there's a company called Screwdriver who will put together your IKEA furniture after you get stuck. They have a standard pricelist, and they send out a nice semi-retired man with, well, a big old set of screwdrivers and allen keys.
Some great tips there, but I still hate shopping at Ikea.....Robin
stevethesleeve 29.11.2001 15:11
Great op. I've had good and bad experiences with Ikea nad their goods, so like you I've developed the strategies that work for me and the two stores I can visit easily. You can tell the experienced Ikeaists, they're the ones going in another direction from veryone else! nice to see one of my favourite teaching phrass coming into your writing; 'thinking out of the box' Do you know who originated it by any chance? thanks again ~ Steve
Cazz 29.11.2001 14:26
Maybe we should set up some kind of on-line support group for survivors of Ikea customer services LOL there's a lot of us about all carrying our baggage (cos you're not allowed to take the trolley out!) Cazz xx