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Ikea – the shop we all hate to love

Ikea logo

In the UK, £1 in every £10 we spend on furniture goes into a great big yellow and blue Swedish pocket. So how did we all come to embrace Faktum furniture and the open prawn sandwich?

Ikea arrived in the UK in 1987, and now has 18 stores. That’s far fewer than many other chains – Habitat, for example, has around double that number.

Yet a recent report from Mintel says Ikea’s share of the furniture market in 2009 was almost 10% of sales by value, making it the biggest seller of furniture in the UK.

Ikea is a store we hate to love. Anyone who’s been there will tell you about their experience of exit panic. That feeling you get when you’ve gone in too far, and you have to get out, but you can’t see where to go.

Why do we keep going back?

They’ll also tell you about how they went in to pick up a Billy bookcase, and came out with two lamps and a variety of storage solutions. I have done all of this, many times over. The point is, we have a terrible time when we’re there, but we keep going back. We can’t help ourselves.

In the recent Which? survey of high street shops, Ikea did stormingly well. In the homewares and garden furniture category, it came third out of 30, after Lakeland and John Lewis. And was way above competitors like Habitat, Homebase and B&Q.

Many people probably don’t realise until they shop there that Ikea offers impressive guarantees too. Most of its ranges come with 10 and 25-year guarantees and almost all the Ikea branded domestic appliances also come with a five year guarantee.

I have to admit, although I resent having to walk through endless scenes of perfect Swedish living to get to the kids’ toys section, I’m always caught by the fact that everything costs slightly less than I expect it to. And it looks, actually, quite good.

I’m now used to delivery nightmares and huge queues to pay. I hate them, of course. Still, I know perfectly well that, come Christmas, I’ll be back to buy star lights that look like they’re from a fancy shop but cost less than a tenner.


So, I had a scary experience last time I was in Ikea.

I was queuing up in front of the deliveries desk (having already queued to get my items from the warehouse, then queuing to pay at the check out). I’d arrived at 9am (having had two previous reccy missions), and it was 7pm by the time I’d found my items, substituted others for the ones that weren’t it stock, and carting huge boxes around.

I was feeling pretty fed up. But not as fed up as the men screaming vicious, sexist, expletive-spattered abuse at the lady behind the desk. I (small and quite weedy), felt I had to intervene, and in my most Britishly-polite way, said ‘Excuse me!’ to him in a firm voice.

He turned to me, pulling his keys out of his pocket, and raising them to a foot from my face, uttering the phrase ‘Do you want me to ‘ave your eye out?’. I said ‘no’ as bravely as I could muster. Clearly interrupted, he wandered off, and I waited about half an hour before I felt safe enough to leave the building.

Obviously I’m not blaming Ikea for the inexcusable behaviour of an aggressive member of the public, but it really does seem that the phenomenon of ‘Ikea-rage’ (compare ‘car-rage’) is alive and well.

Love: Swedish meatballs!

Hate: “It’s only 50p, darling”. £200 later…

Edward Guyatt says:
11 April 2015

I have to say, I liked the cafe but didn’t like the adding VAT on by stealth.

pickle says:
9 October 2010

Well, it’s not all that bad – and there are a lot of bargains to be had if you like the style. True collecting the stuff and paying for it is a hassle – but much aggro can be avoided by going ther when it is not so busy.

I find it very strange that you can never get a mobile phone signal in an Ikea, there’s no natural light, and there don’t seem to be any clocks. Could it be that Ikea has learned from casinos that the way to get people to focus on spending money is to make sure there are no other distractions?

A German take on the name “Ikea” is that it stands for “Idioten Kaufen Einfach Alles” (idiots will buy anything)…

Sophie Gilbert says:
12 October 2010

Ikea has been a godsend to my small budget! I wish I could afford nice independent shop furniture, or well known stuff like what John Lewis offers for example, including beautiful lamps and soft furnishings, kitchen utensils, but I can’t. Thank you, Ikea, for helping me make my home look nice without breaking the bank. And yes, go when it’s not so busy if you can.

Nicolás says:
12 October 2010

I think IKEA is a big store with a lot of things to buy and that`s is a good thing, but I prefer furniture stores where I can feel myself like home.
I prefer stores where I can buy in a more personal, familiar way, that makes me fell a better connection with staff and the way you appreciate products.
Unfortunately stores like IKEA lost it.

[Hi Nicolas – we just had to make a little edit to your comment as the link read a little bit like spam. Thanks.]

I like IKEA for some of the smaller furnishings, like shelf units, frames, book cases and storage solutions but I can’t for the life of me wonder why anyone would want to part with their hard-earned cash and buy a bed or sofa from there. Even the experiences of Which members time and time again shows that they’re not built of particularly great quality.

As a company, though, they are particularly clever. All their products have exactly the same names in every country. Their website and catalogues are deliberately confusing to make people shop in store. And they make you wander through every department to force you to buy things you would never have thought of.

But if you want a pleasant IKEA experience, avoid weekends, shop mid-week. Preferably during the evening when push-chairs are largely absent.

Mark Williams says:
23 December 2010

I like Ikea products. They do a great range of decent quality and good value stuff. However (and it’s a big However) the shopping experience is a nightmare. To start with my nearest Ikea is quite a long way away but the problems really start when you get there. There’s virtually no staff to help and some of their modular products are hard to follow so there is a danger of getting the wrong parts.

Then there’s the warehouse. Even though we needed to have everything delivered we had to wait for nearly an hour for the right driver to come and get the boxes off a high shelf only for us to push the whole lot around the corner to check it all back in to the delivery department. And then there’s the cost of delivery. It would have been much cheaper to hire a large truck for the day!

And finally, when my young son announced he needed the toilet just after leaving the store, we discovered we had to go through the WHOLE store again to find the loos 🙁

Thomas Cochrane says:
26 January 2011

I was very concerned on a recent visit to Ikea to find that they randomly search all customers after check out. I found this unacceptable and left without buying.

Am I wrong to take exception at being automatically treated like a shoplifter?
Do other retailers in the UK demand the right to search all their customers on leaving?

June Smith says:
15 July 2012

Not all Ikea branches search all customers. I have made numerous visits to the one at Eastwood Notts and I have only had one request in 4 years to check my trolley, which I had no problem with. Ikea originally never, as far as I am aware, checked customers trolleys, is this a sign of the times. If it was everyone I would not like it, we do not have that problem.

I cannot recall if I have bought anything from Ikea, but I have assembled their furniture and put up various items including light fittings and curtain rails for friends. Most of us probably associate Ikea with giving their products curious names but I think of all the design faults that I have discovered. Plenty of other companies make products with little problems, but I my award goes to Ikea.

Great range of products from the trashy cheap to good bargains. As IKEA increase the proportion of franchised outlets, so their prices are rising.

IKEA kitchens are fashionable but not as good or easy to maintain as an integrated kitchen. The on-line kitchen planner is useless.

IKEA have a notice at collection points stating staff have a right to safety. Indeed they do but the responsibility for providing safe working conditions lies with the employer, not the customer. By posting that notice IKEA admit they have a problem in causing customer frustration to the point at which customers loose their cool. IKEA thereby fail in their legal duty to provide customer and staff care. IKEA know it, refuse to admit it and instead blame the customer.

IKEA’s staff are too blind to see their employer’s failing

June Smith says:
11 May 2012

I love Ikea, I love their attitude towards customers, their choice of innovative products, the things I did not know I wanted until I find them in Ikea, their meals and free coffee mon-friday I just love an excursion to Ikea it always leaves me feeling happy. Perhaps I am just an happy person but I occasionally have to have a fix even though I have an hours journey. I have installed myself single handed their wardrobes in 2 bedrooms kitchen units in a utility room plus units I have built. Ikea seems to have a price for most. I hope the prices dont start to climb because then the whole reason for going to Ikea will be lost, until that happens I will continue to enjoy my excursions and if you have not been try it, but not on the weekend.

Pinklady says:
26 February 2015

I never saw or heard of an Ikea before I came to this country – they did not exist within 300 miles of where I came from. My new husband introduced me to a catalog. Suddenly I felt I could manage to live in the hamster cages being built and sold as flats in England. My first visit to the store was fabulous – I still love to go into every room setup and see what they’ve done and how they managed to get everything you need into 35 sq. meters! Unbelievable! We head off to Ikea – a good 45 minute drive from our home – at least once a month. We get there as the doors are opening and are gone by noon. I still L-O-V-E the store. Obviously – all my furniture came from there and I’m could care less about shopping in any other furniture store.

Edward Guyatt says:
11 April 2015

I’m trying to figure out whether or not Ikea is any good. I noticed that the website is very well organised and offers what looks like great products, so I went to visit and it looked pretty good.

I was a bit put off by the fact that many of its appliances are made by electrolux and whilpool, which reading a few which reviews I see are pretty bad at making some things, but then electrolux makes reliable refridgerators and maybe ikea chose them to make the right things.

I hear some people saying negative things about it — that it’s bad quality, the furniture won’t last long, etc. but maybe that’s because they’re fifteen years older than me and have kids and more money. Perhaps there’s an element of snobbishness too.

I hear that solid wood is better than MDF, but I can’t see how that can be true for me because woods warp with heat and often require waxing. So why do sellers of solid oak boast that it will last so long? Might last longer than pine or some cheap woods I guess.

Also, they sell a cheap knife sharpener. Some people say these do more damage to knives than good. I’ve been reading The Professional Chef and it says that knife sharpeners are an option, though it places more emphasis on the use of whetstones and honing files. Meh.

I also had a look at some reviews on a site that pays people for reviews. People on Web of Trust seem to think this is dodgy and bound to result in bias, but I’m inclined to think the sample will be less biased as people will be motivated by a need to earn, rather than a need to whine.

There’s a lot of bias and snobbishness in the world and I’m thinking I’ll ignore the opinions of opinionated people and just go on my own judgement based on the website, the store and what I see on Which?, among maybe a couple of other things. Ikea surely looks much more to my liking than department stores and cheap furniture shops like homebase and dunelm mill. Dunelm incidentally got a good rating on which’s top of the shops online retailrs, higher than ikeas’s — but now I’m reading in this article that Ikea did very well in high street retailers, so now I need to read that list!

Life is so confusing… I can’t spend all of it buying furniture. I think I’m going to fall in love with Ikea, as nothing else feels trustworthy at the moment. It’s almost like a religious conversion. All hail the Nordic god of capitalism.

I work at ikea and it’s not what they say.. It’s not famiky friendly. Coz I was new I got all evening shifts and weekends.. Promised a weekend off a month.. Never had.. Have to book put of holidays. You also have to work extra 10-15 mins on every shift.. You have to Wait till everyone as finished. But dobt get paid for it. I worked extra 2 hours last month and dobt get paid for it.

IKEA winner of the how to design the worst possible website award 2016 don’t bother to enter they have it down to a fine art, try designing a PAX wardrope project wont save – doors disappear from the selection list and my shopping list – etc – if you want many hours of frustration have a go, I think I would have more success getting home furnishings from a Butchers shop than getting them from IKEA online.

IKEA have the advantage because of their prices. A lot of us would waste time and nerves in their huge shops just to get a cheaper Kullen dresser or whatever it might be we’re looking for. If it weren’t for their prices, IKEA would have been gone long ago.