Sweden’s IKEA is already the world’s largest furniture retailer, with $31 billion in sales in zoo7. But it’s still in growth mode this side of Stockholm, with 35 U.S. Outposts and four more planned in the next two years. It doesn’t matter how lofty your tastes: If you live near an IKEA, the store’s low-price and high-style wares will draw you in eventually, for your kid’s dorm, a basement or a second home. Once there, expect to be the target of marketing more psychologically complex than the complete works of Ingmar Bergman. Here’s how to emerge without having spent a single krona more than planned.
IKEA’S STRATEGY Get you to follow a winding pathway that goes through each and every department. “They want you to look at everything,” says Paco Underhitl, a retail marketing expert who has consulted for IKEA.
YOUR STRATEGY Pick up a map here, and use shortcuts labeled on it to get where you want to go with a minimum of temptation. Want to bypass the showroom entirely? Study the catalogue, head straight to the self-serve area, and ask an employee for help getting the goods.
- LIVING ROOM SECTION
IKEA’S STRATEGY Entice you with sleek design – IKEA puts a premium on making things look good. But at such low prices, the company obviously can’t offer, say, eight-way hand-tied sofas.
YOUR STRATEGY Bring room dimensions. Fred Albert, former furniture guide for About.com, says the furniture is often smaller than it appears. Skip upholstered stuff, he says, adding that other stores offer better durability.
- KITCHEN AREA
IKEA’S STRATEGY Offer quality cabinets with Blum hardware and frames (same as in brands like Poggenpohl and SieMatic). IKEA beats the competition with mass production and sourcing.
YOUR STRATEGY Check out the cabinetry. Most experts agree you’ll get good value. Installation and planning aren’t included, though; to see if you’re up for a DIYjob, try the 3-D planning tool at ikea.com (PCs only).
- RESTAURANT AND BISTRO
IKEA’S STRATEGY Sell cheap, tasty food to rev you up for more shopping! (The restaurant opens 30 minutes before the store each day.) The $5 medium Swedish meatball meal is all part of the “experience.”
YOUR STRATEGY Get nosh from the “bistro” near the exit (rather than the restaurant by the showroom) after you check out. That way you won’t be lured back into spending mode.
IKEA’S STRATEGY Take your paycheck, $1 at a time. This bounty of uber-cheap small housewares is “very much for impulse buys,” admits Pernille Spiers-Lopez, president of IKEA North America. Baskets of them block the path; suddenly you need six surge protectors. On the upside, there are good values here.
YOUR STRATEGY Make a list and stick to it. Think browsing is half the fun? Set a price cap for unplanned items.
IKEA’S STRATEGY Woo you with free child care. The “Smaland” playroom is parent-friendly (one adult per 12 tots) and kid-friendly (awesome ball room). But as a Harvard Business School study notes, it’s also “gentle coercion” designed to help you spend.
YOUR STRATEGY Lucky for your wallet, there’s a cap – often an hour – on this service. Aim to check out before fetching Junior. That way you won’t get stuck in IKEA’s abyss.
- SELF-SERVE FURNITURE AREA
IKEA’S STRATEGY Save a bundle by having you do assembly. IKEA transports furniture flat-packed in pieces, which reduces its transportation and storage costs.
YOUR STRATEGY Unless you’re handy with a hex wrench and eager to turn 20-odd pieces of fiberboard into a dresser, stick with the line of furniture called Lack, as its pieces are among the most simple to put together. Or make your kids “pay” for their new furnishings by having them do the assembly.
- TIP: Go on weekdays or on weekends before 11a.m., when stores are less crowded. You’ll retain your sanity, and the stock is less likely to be picked over.
- TIP: For the best selection, visit after the four yearly product changes (February, April, August and October). For the best deals, hit the semiannual sales (at midsummer and after Christmas).
- TIP: Missing a crucial screw or the wooden dowel that would make your Hensvik storage unit stand upright? Check out the free spare-parts area located in the returns department.
- TIP: Don’t miss the terrific array of glassware, rugs and lighting. “IKEA is best-in style, quality and price-on products that don’t have to be assembled,” says Jennifer Litwin, author of Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever!