Jeffrey Lau

IKEA - "I can't stick to my shopping list"

IKEA - "I can't stick to my shopping list"

You’ve planned a quick IKEA trip to get a few plates and an extra chair for your dining table. At the entrance, you were drawn to a bright yellow bin of bags placed next to the escalator, which guided you up to the showrooms. Before you knew it, you waited in line with a full shopping cart with over £300 of furniture and other things that you didn’t possibly even think about getting. Sound familiar?

Starting as an idea to spread interior design to the public, IKEA has exponentially grown to 455 operating stores in 52 countries, generating a global revenue of 41.3 billion euros in 2019. These extensive warehouses supplied a consistent 80% of their retail sales in 2020. With up to 1 billion store visits, and 2.8 billion online visits, they have become the world’s largest furniture retailer.

“A great store will give you a sense of comfort and familiarity, and will also give you pleasure of discovery.
- Dr. A K Pradeep, Neuromarketer/Auditor

IKEA plays to the fact that 80% of our buying decisions are actually based on emotions. In the 20th century, an architect, Victor Gruen, used light and space to dramatically stage goods in storefront windows. His designs tried to capture the attention of passersby, to convert them into customers. IKEA now employs this 'Gruen effect', where its store environment takes you from shopping for a specific item, to shopping for shopping’s sake. You’re not alone if you think IKEA's layout is frustratingly confusing. Curving about every 15metres, its race track design keeps you curious with almost every single corner of the store, with what seems to be endless arrangements of furniture, allowing you to imagine what your dream living room might look like. This path also directs you to many spurs of impulse buys, including large collections of soft, plush pillows and cheap furniture parts.

Aside from their flat-packed furniture and sleek, minimal designs, many of their products are competitively affordable. They have beds starting from $99, with their traditional black and white themed price tags that you just can’t miss. These appeal to first-time buyers of an apartment who don't necessarily have a big budget, who want to keep things simple and maybe include a Nordic side table to their cramped living room. But they also display beds up to around $500, for returning customers who want to invest in some higher quality furniture.

IKEA exploits the narcissist in each of us. A full size mirror captivates your brain at almost every corner, as you would probably see a very attractive person looking back at you. Neuromarketer Dr. A K Pradeep justifies that; “as you walk by a mirror, you have love, because you have love for yourself in the mirror.” Likewise, IKEA’s white closets, white cupboards, and white tables are not a coincidence. White symbolises a clutter-free, pure, and simple environment. Through this crisp, clean aesthetic, IKEA communicates to your subconscious mind, for what you aspire for your home.

Browsing through all this for hours is one of the most tiring environments for a human brain is a retail environment. “Hey mum, dad! What’s this?”, is not something parents want to hear every minute they spend in the store. With or without kids, exhaustion is beyond doubt with the amount of information you process while in IKEA. However, they have a plan to hold your attention. IKEA recognises that sustenance is essential to keep customers in there for as long as possible. Their iconic meatballs and cinnamon buns are known to almost anyone passing through the cafeteria, and it is no accident that they are placed near the exit. The warm scent of freshly baked dough, and sugar in particular, decreases the stress of the eventually overwhelming reality of realising how much you’ve just spent.

The famous IKEA meatballs with lingonberry sauce

You get home, and realise you still have to spend the next hour building your closet. IKEA doesn't do this just to make you work. Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely, coined the term: IKEA effect, which concluded that you are more inclined to value an item you have built yourself. Two groups were given IKEA boxes, with one group given fully-assembled versions, and the other given unassembled boxes, which they were told to put together. The group given unassembled boxes were willing to pay much more for their box in a bidding process, unlike those with pre-assembled boxes. Likewise, you would definitely value your own child significantly more than a random child in your neighborhood. In other words, IKEA takes advantage of the fact that ‘labour leads to love’, where we feel more competent by assembling a piece of furniture ourselves. Now, one would hope the IKEA effect isn't true for what you've just read.

So, the next time you plan a trip to IKEA, consider locking your eyes to the blue and yellow arrows on the floor. Or, at least, don't forget what you came for, as it probably wasn't multiple pillows or a plate of meatballs.