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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 🙁