IKEA – the Swedish meatball and MDF shelving kings – are doing something right, and it is heartening to see it. I would wish that other retailers might follow suit.
I visited their premises today to replace a floor lamp that I had destroyed. That’s not the sort of thing that you often write, but I’m sure the readers have had similar experiences; you set out to do a simple repair and you end up throwing something in the bin and going to buy a new one. In the case of the IKEA lamp, I got away easy – if it had been a motor car or something complex it would have been much more traumatic.
Retail trade in Perth is in a slow period – notwithstanding the Christmas season. Oh, there are sales and promotions galore – the post box is full of flyers – but the shops can be light-on as far as paying customers. There is a lot of stock in the camera shop I write for, and there’s only a week until Christmas to clean it out. In fact, it won’t get cleaned out, and there will have to be a series of excruciating sales in the new year to get back shelf space.
But in IKEA, they are lined up at the tills three-deep. Why? What is there about the place that encourages us to go out there. How many bedside tables or jars of marinated herring can we use? When is our capacity for roll-around steel trolleys filled?
Well, I think I’ve got some of the reasons:
a. The stuff they sell is cheap enough that you do not need to be a mining magnate to buy it. They can still sell things for under $ 10, under $ 50, under $ 100. Try getting that at the trendy shops in the richer suburbs…
b. The stuff is reasonably good. Not everything is European-nobility-exclusive quality. Neither are the customers…even if they pretend to be. But there are few outright duds in the range and if anything proves to be really awful, they take it back without question.
c. If you make a wrong choice, they’ll still take it back. This is a massive safety net under your shopping confidence and makes you bolder to try new things.
d. The staff members are pleasant – sometimes thin on the floor, and sometimes overworked, but always kindly. And the fact that the firm hires a wide variety of people means that you get the feeling that they’ll take care of you.
e. The goods are interesting shapes – even when they are plain. You might not get exactly the style that was in your mind, but you can find something that is pretty close to it. You’ll not be overburdened by ethnic furniture choices that clash with the rest of the house – it can all pretty much fit in.
f. The stuff works. If you buy a bookshelf you can keep books on it and if you buy a bed you can sleep on it. Their ovens cook. Don’t laugh – you can go elsewhere and buy trouble and failure at higher prices.
g. They have a cafeteria with food that you don’t make for yourself at home. And that does not cost $ 29 a plate.
h. They have parking. Parking that you can go to directly, that is free, and that is secure. You can load up your purchases at an easy bay. Heck, you can pay a very modest fee and they’ll deliver the entire store to your house next day. We know – we bought a kitchen that came to us just that way.
i. Their online catalog is accurate. Oh, Lordy, do I know the perils of the on-line catalogue in other trades. I know that there can be wild inaccuracies that do not communicate themselves to either the management nor the customers…until someone tries to buy what they think they want from a place that thinks it has it…and both parties to the transaction discover that it is all just a shambles.
I looked today at the online catalogue…because I couldn’t find the big free paper one in the spare room. It was clear and organised and I saw exactly what I needed. The department in the IKEA store had the items stacked neatly and labeled clearly, and my money came out in a flash. Good business all round.
Do I have shares in the company? No. Do I get free furniture for writing this? No. But I do get good stuff and good service each time I go there, and a sense of accomplishment when I turn one of their flat cardboard packs into a real piece of furniture.