Last week, my roommate suggested that we go on a quick trip to IKEA to buy a few items for our room. I know, that first sentence does not sound right; it is very very rare that a trip to IKEA is “quick”. Another anti-IKEA concept? “Few items”.
I will be the first to admit that I have never just spent 45 minutes in an IKEA store. I will also admit that I have never come out of IKEA empty handed; in fact, I almost always come out of and IKEA store with more than what I had initially planned on buying. Concerned about my IKEA spending manners, I spoke to my peers of this and I realised that I am not alone in this dilemma. And so what is it about IKEA that draws customers of their time and money?
Well, the answer lies in the design of the store layout.
Alan Penn, director of the Virtual Reality Centre for the Built Environment, claims, “IKEA’s store layout is a psychological weapon used to confuse and disorientate shoppers into spending more”. And I can perfectly see how this psychological weapon was built.
Every IKEA has a very distinct ENTRANCE and EXIT. Once a shopper walks through the sliding double entrance doors, they begin their journey through the IKEA maze. Friendly staff greet the shoppers and offer thick blue shopping bags to help carry all the items they know shoppers will undoubtedly pick up on their way to the checkout counter. The IKEA maze (store layout) is designed so that the shopper must follow a set path through the store. In the first half of the store, the shopper finds themselves in the showroom; Alan Penn calls it “[IKEA’s] catalogue in physical form”. The showroom is divided into sub-sections depending on the type of furniture displayed. For example, there are separate sections of the showroom for beds, office chairs, dining tables, etc. If a shopper wanted a furniture item they see in the showroom, they must take note of the tag attached to the furniture piece to know where it can be retrieved in the warehouse – the second half of the store.
To get to the warehouse, the shopper must follow the long, winding path through the showrooms. Not all items in the showroom must be picked up in the warehouse, there are a few smaller items that the shopper can grab a hold of in the showrooms and chuck into their shopping bags. And this is IKEA’s first trap for the shopper.
By making the store layout mildly confusing, IKEA makes the shopper less likely to leave behind an item they are yet uncertain of buying. This is because leaving it behind would require the hassle of backtracking the already confusing path if the shopper changed their mind later on. This is IKEA’s way of nudging you towards making those impulse purchases.
After leisurely strolling the winding path through the showrooms, the shopper comes out of the showroom with a list filled with the warehouse locations of furniture items and a shopping bag semi-filled with impulse-grabs. At this point the shopper might be thirsty (after all that was a quite a trek) or maybe the children are starting to become restless. IKEA is two steps ahead of the shopper and the shopper is met by a cafeteria-style dining hall equipped with a children’s play area. The food is cheap and of good quality. The dining area is spacious and clean. The children can play in sight of their parents. Once again, IKEA traps the shopper.
IKEA offers its customers a break; an area to rest and refuel before going on to the rest of the store. After all, a happy, well-fed, well-rested shopper tends to spend more of their money. This is IKEA’s nudge to take it easy, and prepare the body and mind to spend more as they go through the rest of the store.
Now that the shopper is re-energized, the path takes them to the warehouse of the IKEA store. Flat trolleys are readily available and the signage is big, bright, and clear. The shopper is easily able to find their desired furniture items. The furniture themselves are flat-packed and sliding them from the shelving unit onto the trolley requires minimal effort.
The pathway from the warehouse to the checkout counters is “obstructed” by heaps of random sale items; items that can be found range from candle holders to egg slicers. Everything is at a reduced cost and extremely affordable. In order to get to the cashiers, the shopper must walk past all these items. This is not a nudge. This is IKEA’s last ditch effort in encouraging the shopper to make as many impulse purchases as they can.
From a retail perspective, IKEA’s store layout design is genius. IKEA has planned their floor design to a tee with respect to retail consumption. The IKEA experience has been so carefully curated to take advantage of and, slightly manipulate, the consumer’s wants and needs.
As brilliantly demonstrated by IKEA, the design process does not end at designing the perfect final product. The design of the shopping experience, is equally as important; presentation, accessibility, packaging, and saleability are all important aspects of a product. The design of the store layout can make or break a product.
Resisting the IKEA nudge is hard. (After all, it is a psychological weapon of mass expenditure.) But the next time you are caught up in IKEA for hours and find yourself questioning where all these items in your shopping bag came from at the checkout counter, do not claim defeat against the nudge; give a nod to it. It got the best of you.