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How Ikea changed the way we shop…..

You can deny it as much as you want, we are all part of the Ikea cult and it only going to get bigger. This msn UK article has more…

I bet I can guess where some of you spent the rainy Bank Holiday – in an Ikea store. You probably queued to get into the car park and then spent hours shuffling round the giant showroom, dutifully following the arrows.

You perhaps went in for the two-seater Karlstad sofa at only £70. But you probably also picked up some funky cushions and a Lagbo CD rack – well it was only £1.59. Oh, and the Grono table lamp at £3.59 just caught your eye.

I hope the sofa was in stock when you finally made it to the eerily large warehouse at the back of the store. It’s where flat-packed furniture goes to die. There are racks and racks of cardboard slabs, numbered and tagged like bodies in a morgue. And it’s cold and quiet.

The absence of any staff probably explains the silence. So I presume you were strong enough to get your flat-packed sofa onto the trolley. There was probably another queue at the checkout. Did you remember the 70p charge if you use a credit card?

I bought a snack last time I went – and there was a queue for the food, too. I then had to try and strap my flat-packed furniture – long – into the back of my car – short. I found a box of string that was chained to a table. But there were no scissors. I found a member of staff – sorry co-worker – but he was about as much use as the string.

I was weeping uncontrollably by the time I got home. And that was before I opened the box and discovered that I couldn’t understand the instructions and there was a screw missing.I spent some days in recovery before I went back to tell them about the missing screw. I had to go to the returns desk where there is a ticket system, which can only be designed to deter you from the returns desk. I was told the screw would be with me in a few days. It is now more than two weeks later, and it is still nowhere to be seen.

Ikea – the store we love to hate

Ikea. We love it because it has brought modern design to the masses – and it’s cheap. We hate it because it’s hard work and we end up queuing, sometimes for missing bits. But there’s no doubt that is has changed the way we shop.

It all started in the 1950s in the snowbound farmtown of Almhult in the province of Smaland in southern Sweden, where Ingvar Kamprad had a vision of the future of furniture – and it was flat-packed.

But Ikea is about more than changing rooms; it is about changing lives. Ikea wants to “create a better everyday life for the many people” – and with missionary zeal. Kamprad has even written a tract entitled The Testament of a Furniture Dealer, setting out the sacred concept.

Kamprad’s humble beginnings taught him to work hard, live frugally and make the most of limited resources. And so his customers carry on the tradition in Ikea stores.

A trip to Ikea is more about self-improvement than shopping. It will help you to live a better life, or at least a better furnished life. It will also make you appreciate that ordinary people can aspire to colourful soft furnishings, not just the elite. And you can do it for yourself – assembling the furniture is all part of the process.

The cult of Ikea

There’s something of the cult about Ikea, the leader, the co-workers and the creed.

So it didn’t come as a total shock to some people when Kamprad was outed in the 1990s for his youthful affiliation to the pro-Nazi neo Swedish party.

But Kamprad admitted his “mistake”, and the contrition he revealed in a letter to his team seemed to sort things out.

It certainly didn’t strain the company’s success. There are more than 200 Ikea stores in over 35 countries, attracting more than 500 million visitors last year. Group turnover was €17.8 billion (£12.1 billion) – and that’s a lot of euros.

The flat-pack invasion of Britain

The inclusive vision – and the low prices – partly explain the Ikea success story.

But the store also expanded into the UK when the market was ready for change. Habitat was set up in the 1960s and was Ikea’s biggest – perhaps only – rival. But it had grown lazy: the firm was known as Shabitat in the 1980s when Ikea first came to Britain.

The Swedish store was big, bold and different. It quickly snatched market share, and eventually Habitat’s business. Ikea bought its one-time rival in 1993.

Ikea also moved into Britain at about the same time as we became obsessed with DIY and television programmes such as Changing Rooms.

Trend setter, not fashion follower

But Ikea hasn’t just followed fashion, it has set trends. It has made us think differently about our furniture.

These days, modern is good and change is good. Do you remember the call to chuck out your chintz? Why put up with tatty heirlooms and old fashioned fabrics, when we can transform a whole room for about £150?

Ikea is also surely the pioneer of other cut-price retailers such as Top Shop and Primark that bring designer fashion to the high street.

The future’s Swedish Will it survive? There are certainly challenges ahead. An ageing population might not be quite so happy to shop for new furniture every year. It might also be unable to lift and assemble a new sofa or bookcase.

There is also a risk of a consumer backlash. We might eventually get fed up with low prices and demand instead a high level of service.

But for now we are happy to put up with a missing screw here and there because deep down we love Ikea because we are all – whether we like it or not – members of the cult of consumerism.

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