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All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here

Friday, 26 March 2010

Ikea. No other word has the power to strike such terror in my heart. Unfortunately for me any trip with Barbara to Edinburgh comes with an unwritten rule that there will be an expedition to the towering temple of consumerist doom.

It’s difficult, especially as a retailer, to legitimise the loathing I have for Ikea. I understand why people (mostly in my experience women) adore it. Yes, they have lots of well designed products (subjective). Yes, they are affordable (subjective). Yes, they are all available in one gargantuan warehouse environment (objective). All sounds good on paper but in practice, for me at any rate, shopping at Ikea is closer to eternity in the first circle of hell than the exciting and vibrant retail experience it is claimed by many to be.

Democracy through design I’ve heard it called. The reality is more like communism, the objective a subtly engendered conformity, herded round, doing the Dawn Of The Dead shuffle in the direction of the arrows past all of the wonderfully affordable, vibrant and exciting modular designs imported from Sweden. Most of it is nonsense but some of it is good. To get to the good stuff you have to get through an awful lot of nonsense.

But that isn’t the end. If you survive the showroom, using the little pencils to note down all the product codes on the little pads and the accompanying bay numbers you have to head into the sinister market hall to get to the warehouse where you will finally collect your items.

Another maze of arrows and prescribed cattle flow leads you round past a cornucopia of cheap stuff that you really don’t need. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has been to Ikea who doesn’t have an unopened sack of 100 tealights somewhere in their home.

It’s the sweets on the counter premise for grown ups on a massive scale and it is extremely effective. Even I find myself picking up items, thinking “this will come in handy” only to come to my senses in the nick of time. The worst part about this area of the store is you haven’t even got what you wanted yet and they are already convincing you to buy more.

Finally you reach the warehouse and the stuff you actually came for in the first place. Picking your way through the racks you locate the necessary bays to collect the various flat packs required to assemble your oh-so-cleverly designed tables and chairs and what have you. Only you can’t because there aren’t any left. Oh you can get the legs for the chair but the seat element you wanted is gone. Several hours of browsing, trailing and fighting the urge to buy complete and total nonsense rendered worthless in the seconds it takes you to realise they don’t even have what you want.

That’s the point I usually crumble and get filled with a Michael Douglas in Falling Down feeling that reinforces the necessity of strict gun control laws in this country.

This time we minimised the pain. Knowing what we needed ahead of time we skipped the showroom, cut straight to the “home organisation” department, grabbed what we needed and headed out with the minimum of browsing and only a few minor excess purchases. Nothing short of a miracle.

More like Purgatory than Hell then, at least this time round.

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