In a perfect world, an afternoon at IKEA would be a mix of Swedish meatballs, minimalistic furniture and shopping bliss. You'd eat at the restaurant, drop your kids off to play in the ball pit at Smaland, wander the store, exit with a disassembled coffee table inside a cardboard box — one that actually fits in your trunk — and everyone would mind his or her manners.
In reality, with more than 716 million visitors walking through the doors of its 318 stores every year, IKEA can serve as a backdrop for mobs behaving badly, whether they're blabbering into a cell phone after cutting in line, "forgetting" to clear a tray from the restaurant table, or getting a little too cozy on a daybed in the Showroom and obliviously snoring the afternoon away [source: IKEA].
But by following a few simple rules, you can be a paragon of good etiquette in the mini-society that is IKEA — all without saying "no" to extra meatballs. Let's take a look at what to keep in mind the next time you decide to brave the crowds for that particleboard bookshelf.
Do Your Homework
The best way to avoid a faux pas at IKEA is to know what to expect. A cornerstone of IKEA's business model is flat-packed furniture, which shifts the burden of assembly to the customer — and might cause you to have a panic attack if you were really counting on sleeping in that bed tonight. (But rest easy: For an extra fee, IKEA can put the furniture together for you.)
If you go on the weekend, it's probably going to be crowded. Even in the middle of the week, a trip to IKEA will likely take at least an hour — and that's if you stick to your shopping list and don't wander off to look at lamps.
Next, come prepared. Before you even leave the house, scan the catalog and browse ikea.com. Snap some photos of the room you're planning to furnish, and think about how new furniture additions will fit its character, context and color scheme. Next, break out a tape measure and calculate the size of the room — you'll save yourself the deep despair of assembling a bookcase only to find it's too tall for your study's low ceiling.
And instead of asking IKEA employees their opinion of whether that couch would fit in the trunk of your Volkswagen Golf (it probably won't), just measure it yourself first.
The Arrow Points the Way
A typical IKEA is about 350,000 square feet (32,500 square meters); however, the company's oldest and largest store in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden, measures nearly 594,000 square feet (55,000 square meters), equivalent to more than 10 (U.S.) football fields [source: Nakano]. Fortunately for the directionally challenged among us, there's an arrow-lined path that winds through IKEA's Showroom and Marketplace, offering a sense of order and orientation in the mammoth space.
When visitors follow the path, they explore the whole store and come into proximity with just about everything IKEA has for sale, from desks and beds to cutlery and doormats. The setup might be an evil plot to get you to buy more home goods, but it could at least serve to minimize stress.
Officially, visitors aren't obligated to follow the arrows or even stick to the path — hidden shortcuts throughout the store allow savvy visitors to bypass certain segments. But on those crowded afternoons around moving day, just go with the arrows instead of against them. Along the way, be aware of the people around you: Don't run, try not to swing your yellow shopping bag in excitement, avoid cartwheels and don't leave your cart in the path. And instead of stopping to gawk in wonderment at all the affordable furniture from a distance, step off the path and let your fellow shoppers make their way around you.
Stretch Out, But Don't Fall Asleep
The major departments in IKEA are the Showroom on the second floor and Market Hall on the ground level. The Showroom features mockups of fully realized kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms and other spaces, while Market Hall contains decorations, rugs, tableware and cut-it-yourself fabric. If you have second thoughts about an item after you've picked it up, put it back yourself instead of expecting an employee to do it for you.
And while scanning through the furniture inventory, it's perfectly fine for customers to kick up their feet on an ottoman, stretch out on a chaise lounge or even lie down on a bed if they're a bit drowsy. "A quick snooze is allowed," says Mona Astra Liss, U.S. Corporate Public Relations Director for IKEA [source: Liss]. LINK TO LMI PAGE But keep things tidy: No muddy shoes on the fabric, no jumping on the beds and make sure you wake up in time to give your fellow shoppers a chance to try out that couch. Speaking of which, don't get too comfortable, or things could get a little gross: In China, visitors falling asleep on the beds is a phenomenon that has required staff to change the sheets almost every other day [source: Wall].
Don't Steal the Carts
After leaving the marketplace — or, if you're the sort of rebel who enters through the exit doors without making the lengthy journey through the store — you'll reach IKEA's self-serve area, a warehouse-style department whose aisles are stocked with the boxed-up, disassembled counterparts of the furniture you found upstairs. You'll also find the As-Is section, which is stocked with discontinued items, returns, banged-up floor models and other products that are available at a discount.
When you enter the self-serve area and grab your cart, keep in mind that being prepared and being polite are one in the same. Make sure you've arrived with the aisle, bin number, color, fabric and price information you found on the tag that was affixed to the assembled item in the showroom. If you're having trouble finding the right match or you need help getting the box off the shelf, ask an IKEA associate for help. And don't hijack someone's trolley when he isn't looking.
Don't Ask a Million Questions
IKEA employs 147,000 staff, or "co-workers" in corporate parlance, who tend to form an unobtrusive presence inside the store — unlike the buzzing, commission-seeking salespeople elsewhere in the retail world [source: IKEA]. And while staff are usually happy to oblige customers' queries, the other customers waiting in the wings might not be so understanding of high-maintenance shoppers.
If you have a lot of questions that require one-on-one attention, schedule your IKEA sojourn for off-peak hours in the middle of the week, or consider calling ahead to make an appointment with a home-furnishing consultant. If you're working on a larger project, refine your questions by spending time with IKEA's online planning tools for designing offices, kitchens and other spaces. Instead of interrupting a staff member who's speaking with a customer, try to find one who's unoccupied.
And be civil: Don't scold an employee for items that are out of stock or for prices that seem too high — or for waking you up from your nap. If you have a legitimate complaint, ask to speak with a manager.
Smaland Is a Privilege, Not a Right
Smaland — named after the region in southern Sweden where IKEA originated — is the store's supervised children's area, a forest-themed playscape equipped with a ball pit. Parents can leave their children with caretakers while they shop for as long as 90 minutes, free of charge.
But before leaving your child at Smaland, confirm that you're abiding by the rules. Each child must be between 37 and 54 inches (94 and 137 centimeters) tall and toilet-trained (no diapers allowed), and your little tyke definitely shouldn't be under the weather. Be honest about your kids' temperaments: Do they play well with others, or are they hellions who could turn Smaland into a forest-themed nightmare? Keep in mind that Smaland also has staff-to-child ratios to maintain, so don't have a grown-up tantrum if you're turned away.
And when the store-provided pager alerts you that it's time to retrieve your kids, pay attention — even if you're just about to check out. Be ready to show ID — only the person who drops off the kids may pick them up — and remember that no matter how tired you are, you can't leave the store while your child is in Smaland.
Lastly, remember that Smaland is intended for IKEA shoppers. In 2009, The New York Times explored the phenomenon of cost-conscious (i.e., cheap) parents visiting IKEA and using Smaland as a free childcare service while they relaxed without necessarily buying anything from the store. This isn't against the rules, but from an ethical standpoint, you're better off hiring a babysitter.
Clear Your Tray
Tucking into a plate of Swedish meatballs, a salmon wrap or something else off of IKEA's seasonally changing menu is just another part of the experience. Roughly 700 million people ate in an IKEA restaurant in 2013, and some of those customers helped consume 150 million meatballs in the process [source: Hansegard].
In truth, the "restaurant" is more of a cafeteria, which means all of the same conventions apply. While you're in line, scan the menu and be ready to order when you get to the counter. Show good hygiene by keeping your fingers off every single salad and piece of cake, with the exception of the one you plan to eat. And if you're waiting for friends, don't ask them to join you in line when they arrive, in effect cutting in front of all the other hangry customers; instead, wait for them or have them join you at the table. There's no need to add to the commotion by shouting, and, if you're visiting with squirmy children, ensure they remain seated. Shockingly for some, the cafeteria doesn't double as a playground.
When you're finished, don't be the person who conveniently "forgets" to bus the dishes; take your tray to the proper cart and wipe your mess off the table. And since no one wants to sit on a coffee-stained couch or snuggle up on a crumb-covered pillow, restrict all of your calorie consumption to the cafeteria.
Don't Be a Parking Hog
You're almost done: You've got a receipt in hand and boxes in tow, and you're making your way back to your car. But don't give up on politeness yet.
If you park your vehicle in the loading zone outside the self-serve area, don't linger longer than the space's 15-minute time limit. Instead of blocking cars in the loading zone or idling in a fire lane, wait your turn. Consider using the services of the so-called "loaders," IKEA workers stationed in the loading zone area who help customers bring their purchases to their vehicle. (And if steam's shooting out of your ears when you find out the hard way that you measured your trunk incorrectly, they can help arrange a home delivery service to transport your purchase.)
Don't forget the etiquette you learned in driver's ed, either: Park inside the lines, stay alert to other vehicles and shoppers making their way around your car, obey speed limits and always use your turn signal. Finding a parking space shouldn't be a gladiatorial death match.
Lastly, watch out for simians on the loose. In 2012, Darwin, a small monkey wearing a diaper and what looked like a sheepskin coat, escaped from its owner and wandered through an IKEA parking lot in Toronto, Canada. After a long court battle (it's illegal to own a monkey in Toronto), Darwin has lived happily ever after in an Ontario animal sanctuary [source: Klee].
Say "Please" and "Thanks"
While inside IKEA, be as courteous as you would in any other public place. If you're shopping with family and friends, keep your voice down and watch your language. If you're shopping with young children in tow, make sure they're well-behaved and well-rested. If you need to make a phone call to confirm which color curtains your spouse wanted, step off the path, find a secluded place to dial and keep the call short. And no matter how ridiculous the people around you get, remember that it's bad form to snap pictures and video of others.
When you reach the checkout line, don't blitz toward the Swedish food market without paying, and don't save a place in line for anyone who's paying separately from you. When it's your turn to pay, put your phone away: Yammering away is disrespectful to the cashier scanning your purchases and the customers behind you. Before you leave, return your cart. And remember the basics: Say please and thank you, and remember to smile.
Obey the Return Policy
You've spent the afternoon at home twisting an Allen wrench and assembling an entertainment center, but when you've finally finished, you decide it just doesn't look as good as that other little number you had your eye on a few displays over. It's time to head back to the blue-and-yellow behemoth to make a return.
IKEA's return policy in its U.S. stores is straightforward: You can return furniture, housewares, and just about anything that isn't custom (like cut fabric and countertops) or an as-is item with a receipt within 90 days for a full refund. You can also return mattresses within 90 days, but you can only exchange them for store credit [source: IKEA]. (Be ready to present a receipt and an ID with your return, a measure to curb return fraud.)
It's rarely OK to bring furniture back that's stained, scratched or broken unless those are symptoms of a defect, and sullied mattresses definitely can't be exchanged. But if you're returning something half-assembled and out of its packaging, don't worry — returning it that way isn't impolite at all.
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Author's Note: 10 IKEA Etiquette Rules
I'd never set foot inside an IKEA until working on this article — I had heard the horror stories, and I decided my Saturdays would be better spent on my own couch than wading through the crowds to test out a low-slung Swedish one. But going to IKEA on a quiet Wednesday afternoon was an overall pleasant experience. I bought a cutting board, and aside from a few people cutting the line for meatballs, there were only a few lapses in etiquette that I noticed. Still, why can't everyone just walk in the same direction as the arrows?
More Great Links
- ABC News. "Parking Lot Survival Guide: AAA's 6 Tips for Staying Safe." April 23, 2014. (March 16, 2015) http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/04/parking-lot-survival-guide-aaas-6-tips-for-staying-safe/
- Hansegard, Jens. "IKEA's Path to Selling 150 Million Meatballs." The Wall Street Journal. Oct. 17, 2013. (March 12, 2015) http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304864504579139540481712888
- Henry, Alan. "Speed up Your IKEA Visits by Going in Through the Exit Doors." Lifehacker. Jan. 21, 2013. (March 12, 2015) http://lifehacker.com/5977586/speed-up-your-ikea-visits-by-going-in-through-the-exit-doors
- Higgins, Michelle. "A Cheap Date, With Child Care by Ikea." The New York Times. June 10, 2009. (March 12, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/11/garden/11ikea.html
- IKEA. "FY 2014: The IKEA Group continues to grow and enable more customers to live a sustainable life at home." Jan. 28, 2015. (March 12, 2015) http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/about_ikea/newsitem/FY14-yearly-summary
- IKEA. "Return policy." 2015. (March 19, 2015) http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/customer_service/return_policy/
- Klee, Miles. "Whatever happened to the Ikea monkey?" The Washington Post. Dec. 10, 2014. (March 12, 2015) http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/12/10/whatever-happened-to-the-ikea-monkey/
- Liss, Mona. U.S. Corporate Public Relations Director, IKEA. Personal correspondence. March 13, 2015.
- Nakano, Craig. "Ikea releases rendering for new, larger Burbank store." Los Angeles Times. Nov. 15, 2012. (March 19, 2015) http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/15/news/la-lh-ikea-plan-burbank-store-20121115
- Post, Peggy et al. "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition." William Morrow. 2011.
- Strauss, Marina. "How Ikea seduces us." The Globe and Mail. Aug. 23, 2012. (March 12, 2015) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/how-ikea-seduces-us/article4328972/?page=all
- Wall, Kim. "Ikea at last cracks China market, but success has meant adapting to local ways." South China Morning Post. Sept. 1, 2013. (March 16, 2015) http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1300942/ikea-last-cracks-china-market-success-has-meant-adapting-local-ways