Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Millions of People Want to Work at IKEA for Free

Having moved to my new place in Florida, I discovered that I needed more shelf space for books. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for: a chance to work at IKEA. ("You mean SHOP at IKEA, don't you?" I hear you protesting.) No, I mean WORK. Having just successfully executed a shopping project plan at IKEA, and since no one should shop at IKEA without preparation, I thought I'd pass on some of the tips I've learned for those of you ready to try a radically different shopping experience. (Here is some background info for those who aren't familiar with IKEA.)

Tip 1: The IKEA Language.

First you will need to master the IKEA vocabulary of nouns. In the case of bookcases, for instance, their various product lines are all given names of Swedish places. However, since IKEA is the master of modular design, many of their products can be combined to create an almost infinite number of configurations. Let's say you want to create a tall bookcase with some drawers and a short one to do double-duty as a lamp table. The product lines involved would be Besta, Besta Vara, Besta Tofta and Inreda.

The easiest way to design your bookcases is to go to the nearest store.

What? The nearest store is a 500 mile drive from your home?

Look, if you're going to buy a great product at an incredible price and experience the greatest shopping challenge of your life, then you're going to have to make a few sacrifices.

Tip 2: Stay Focused!

When you arrive at the store head straight to the bookcases. Go right up the escalators, glue your eyes to the arrows on the floor that indicate the path through the 8 billion square foot showroom and, whatever you do, DON'T LOOK UP!

What?? You tried that and you smacked your knee on a dining table and took your eyes off the arrows because you were in such pain that your eyes started watering? Then you beheld room after breathtaking room of IKEA furniture and accessories in every conceivable combination and setting stretching on endlessly before you and you were transfixed in wonderment?

OK, here's the challenge: you have maybe ten minutes before the IKEA Effect kicks in and you lose all connection with the outside world. So, before you forget who you are and how to use a cell phone, call and make a reservation at the nearest hostelry for that night because you won't be able to start your trek homeward until midnight and we don't want the police finding your body piled under a bunch of IKEA boxes in your rolled-over car because you fell asleep at the wheel.

TIP 3: Write It Down!

OK, so 3 hours later you finally arrive at the bookcase section. The time frame is optimistic here because you might have passed the bookcases a few times, having forgotten why you came to the store in the first place along with your identity and any capacity for free-will. On the walls of this section you will see samples of every component that can be used to construct a bookcase. These have been cleverly arranged into numbered sections in the order in which a design must be constructed. Now, if you can still count, go over to the wall display labeled "1" and DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

But before you do anything else, look around for the nearest rack containing blue pamphlets and small pencils and disposable tape measures. Grab one of each and keep 'em handy. The form has a map of the store, shopping instructions, and, most important, a blank shopping list on the back where you can write down what you want to buy. There is no way, even if you were not under the spell of the IKEA Effect, that you are going to remember that you need 3 "Inreda Drawer Without Front 23 5/8" by 15 3/4" in Beech Effect Units" for longer than 30 seconds.

Tip 4: Don't Forget the Article Number

When you've decided what you want to buy, IKEA instructs you to go to the "Self-Serve Furniture" area. The uninformed might misinterpret this euphemism as a loading platform to which you drive your vehicle where employees are available to help you load your stuff in the car. The complete IKEA novice might even think they can avoid this part of the process altogether if they have decided to pay for delivery. This is WRONG in both cases!

In fact, the "Self-Serve Furniture" area looks suspiciously like an enormous stock-room which, indeed, it is. Part of IKEA's retailing revolution involves the deceptively simple idea of removing the walls that usually separate the stockroom from the selling floor. Oh yes, it also involves eliminating almost all of the stockroom jobs as well, leaving the customer responsible for locating the items he or she wants to purchase:

a) amidst the 3 trillion items IKEA sells;

b) within a warehouse containing dozens of rows of multi-storied shelving structures;

c) all filled with identically clad plain brown cardboard boxes of various sizes and shapes.

Not to worry! IKEA has a system designed to find what you're looking for and stimulate your brain cells at the same time. Simply use one of the touch screen computers conveniently located around the ware... I mean the "Self-Serve Furniture" section, enter the item number of the thing you want to buy and hit enter.

What? You forgot to write down the article number when you were browsing the 8 billion square foot show-room because the form didn't have a column for a part number?

No problem: simply enter the name of the items you want in the computer instead.

What?? You wrote down the names of what you want but now you can't decipher words that seem to be in Swedish and looks like it might be "Basta/Vegas/Toffee/Invader"?

Oh well, you'll just have to walk the 300 miles back through the largest store on the planet to the spot where you think you might've seen what you wanted and re-do all the research necessary to figure out what parts you'll need to build it if... I mean, ONCE you get home.

What???? You already did that but the damn tag, which is supposed to have all the info needed to purchase the item, did NOT have an item number? So you accosted a yellow-shirted IKEA person screaming:


but your foaming mouth and rolling eyes caused him to run away before he answered the question?

No problem: the exact location of the items you want in the "Self-Serve Furniture" room are shown at the bottom of the IKEA tags on a red card.

What? You're upset that I didn't mention this before which would've saved you miles of walking and hours of work but now you've wasted so much time that the store is closing so you'll have to come back tomorrow to finish shopping?

See: I told you to reserve a room!!

Tip 5: Don't Give Up.

At this point it may seem that leaving your stuff in the moving boxes in the living room until your next move is a very reasonable alternative. This is simply the result of complete mental and physical exhaustion. After a good night's sleep at an overpriced motel (sans a change of clothes or toiletries considering you weren't planning to make this an overnight shopping trip) your perspective will return. I hope. Remember, perseverance is an important lesson to be learned in confronting any challenge.

What? You'd rather pay more to have someone else do all this work than work for IKEA for nothing?

What are you, un-American??

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Black: The New Stainless-Steel

Last weekend I was in the middle of my daily trip to the local "home store" (the inevitable consequence of a remodel project in its latter stages) when I noticed an attractive refrigerator sitting near the entrance. In front of it was a sign in large handwritten letters that read:


Now this I had to check out. The "prime directive" of every home makeover/flipping/buying/selling/trading/renting show on cable TV mandates that all kitchen appliances must be stainless-steel. I have seen episodes of these real estate orgies in which a woman rejected an eight bedroom, 11,000 square foot mansion with ocean views, offered for fifteen thousand dollars, because it didn't have stainless-steel appliances. (The husband subsequently appeared on a reality crime show as a prime suspect in the disappearance of his steel-obsessed wife.)

In spite of overwhelming evidence that I was committing a home makeover felony, I selected black appliances. This choice was a no-brainer: stainless-steel comes with about a 30% price increase over its humbler, color competitors. I simply can't see paying several hundred bucks just to get a permanent installation of kindergarten finger-paintings in my kitchen. (By the way, aren't fingerprints stains??) The only concession I made to this expensive surface choice was inside the dishwasher. This doesn't count with style nazis because it's invisible 98% of the time.

The reaction of my family, friends and even total strangers to my choice has been so virulent that I sometimes think it would have been worth the extra money to spare myself the umpteenth repetition of my "In Defense of Black" speech. Once the subject of my remodel comes up, the appliances confrontation is inevitable. It goes something like this:

"So you got stainless-steel, RIGHT???"

"Uhhhh.... no, actually. I got black."

"Black?? BLACK??! You got BLACK APPLIANCES????!!!"

(If the conversation is occurring in a public space, this is the point where people start turning around to take a look at the idiot who wants his kitchen to look like a funeral parlor.)

"Oh come on.... what's so great about stainless-steel anyway?"

"Oh you poor demented fool! Haven't you watched HGTV? Don't you know that steel appliances can increase your resale value by tens of thousands of dollars??"

And now it seems I could have avoided all of this conflict without paying an extra penny. But then I looked more closely at the home-store display and discovered that, like most advertising, it wasn't as simple as it appeared. On top of the fridge were the prices for the three versions of the model in question:


White: $1199

Black: $1199.

It was true that no premium had to be paid for stainless-steel, but that was because the price of the less desired models of color had been raised significantly to match that of the steel-clad version!

It was the perfect advertising ploy: tell the literal truth while leaving the lies unspoken. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this approach: politicians and used-car salespeople do it every day. But will it work?

I have every reason to believe that it will. I suspect that, like the hula-hoop craze, the stainless-steel mania is abating. It's the nature of fads. Whoever came up with the "no premium for stainless-steel" concept no doubt saw some disturbing sales figures and realized the hit the refrigerator food-chain would take if people only bought appliances that had, in effect, a 30% discount. The only answer was to raise the prices of the non-stainless steel items. But how to do that when all of the retailers are constantly screaming that they have the lowest prices in town?

The answer, of course, is magic. Or to be more precise: sleight-of-hand. If a magician doesn't want you to see what he or she is doing with her right hand, make the audience look at his or her left instead. In this case distract the shopper with the seemingly great bargain of offering stainless-steel at "colored" prices so they won't notice that the price of the latter has just gone up very steeply.

Ask a car dealer whose been in business, say, for 40 years whether he's ever raised prices and you might get him to concede that he did it once during the Great Inflation of the 1970s. Really?? So how come I can't buy a car for four thousand bucks like my Father did when he bought a new Pontiac Catalina in 1972? In spite of this undeniable fact, the dealer would be telling the literal truth. GM didn't raise the price of a Pontiac Catalina. Instead they slapped a new name on a reworked body enclosing better bells and whistles, placed it upon the same chassis as the Catalina, and sold it for 30% more.

All that the appliance food chain needs now is one or two reality crime shows featuring a husband wanted for questioning in his wife's disappearance because the real estate deal of a lifetime she passed up had stainless-steel in the kitchen.