We have an IKEA within reasonable driving distance or Raleigh and for those of you who have never gone, or those who have gone and were totally overwhelmed, here’s my recommendations for shopping at IKEA and keeping your sanity. Now first I have to warn you that I, myself, go on epic IKEA runs (like 6 hours – not kidding) but that is a whole other subject. If you want to make it into and out of the store in under 3 hours, here are some tips.
Plan ahead. This might seem like it should go without saying, but it is important to get a game plan together. Look at the website and the catalog. If you don’t have a catalog, you can order one from IKEA’s website. This is a nice little book to have because you can turn down pages and get ideas for looks that have already been put together. This is also a good way to get an idea of how their modular storage works, like the Billy bookcase and the wardrobe options. They have a way of styling these things to look like built-ins and they look really polished, so there are some great strategies for how to maximize the bang for your buck. If you are buying a large item, it is also important to measure your space and your car so you know what will fit and what won’t.
Make a list. Now that you have perused the product line, make a list of the things you want to look at. They have a handy list tool you can use on the website that will tell you everything from the price to where it is located in the store. In order to use this, you do have to set up an account. But while you do, you can also register for IKEA Family which will get you discounts and free coffee in the store (you’re going to need it.) You should prioritize your list so you have an idea of where you want to spend your time.
The carts: Because IKEA is a European company, they have European carts – this means all 4 wheels spin independently of each other. This doesn’t sound like a big deal until you try to wrestle one of these beasts down the isle – they have a mind of their own. That being said, if you’re not sure exactly what you want to pick up or you know you’re only going to be getting small things, get the small cart that fits one of the big yellow bags. If you know you’re going to pick up something bigger or you have a child you want to push, get the regular grocery store sized one and good luck. The only “easy” way I have found these to work is to pull them but they still go AWOL.
The store: IKEA is set up on 2 mammoth floors. The top floor has a restaurant and all of the sample room vignettes as well as big displays of the larger furniture pieces. The bottom floor is “The Marketplace.” This floor is stuffed with little nick-knacks you never even knew you needed. A side note about the food: it's nothing to write home about, but it is part of the experience. Kind of like Mickey Mouse ears at Disney, it's fun in the right context.
I have a routine when I go: I walk the showroom and kick the tires on the big pieces I’m thinking about, I stop for a refresher and a sit down at the restaurant and get their famous Swedish Meatballs (with lots of lingon berry sauce,) then I head down to the marketplace to pick up all the small goodies, check out and finish up with a celebratory cinnamon bun. Sounds easy enough, but keep in mind IKEA is like the size of 4 Wal-mart stores upstairs and down and is laid out like a casino. Casinos are designed to give you a false sense of time. They are meant to be disorienting and dazzling and typically have little visual access to the outside so you don’t realize the sun went down long ago – this is the exact atmosphere inside the IKEA store. IT IS A TRAP.
The store has a “pathway” from beginning to end that snakes back and forth through the store. God help you if you are on the wrong side of the store and discover you have to go to the bathroom, you’re going to need a compass. If you’ve never been to an IKEA before, I recommend following the path just to get the experience. If you have a specific place you want to get to, they have “shortcuts.” There are maps in various locations throughout the store so you can locate yourself and the shortcuts will be marked on these maps and you can use them to skip some of the showroom.
Keep in mind that you will not, I repeat, will NOT be able to peruse the entire product line if you want to make it out in under 3 hours. If you’re walking the path, just make sure you briskly walk by the things you’re not really there for and don’t stop to open all the drawers. It’s tempting, I know, but you can do it. Stop and hang out awhile in the areas that have what you’re looking for and get an idea of the variety they offer so you can choose the best one. IKEA is well known for having amazing prices, but know that you will be sacrificing some quality the more well-priced an item is. If you buy a $99 couch, it’s going to be hard as a rock, but if you just need something to keep you off the floor, it will do. If you’re looking at a long-term investment, your best bet is to cough up a little more dough, and probably elsewhere. There’s so much to say about getting the best quality for your money at IKEA that I’m going to have to do another post about that later; because they do make some high quality items. (Look for it soon)
Anywho, make sure you test out the merch. before you buy it so there are no surprises when you get home. I also find it helpful to take pictures of the pieces I’m considering so I can go back and see everything quickly without having to navigate the store again. There are also conveniently placed paper measuring tapes hung up throughout the store, so take advantage of these when you’re trying to figure out if a piece will fit (you did take measurements, right?) Once you have decided which pieces you want to get, pick up a paper list and tiny golf pencil (they’re usually right by the tape measures.) Jot down the location of the piece in the warehouse. You will need to know this when you or a helper goes to pull the piece.
Now that you’re thoroughly overwhelmed with the dilemma of choice you’ve just been served up, go to the restaurant and take a break. Get something yummy and reboot before you continue on. Take a look at your pre-shopping list to get back on track if you need to. If nothing else, just give your feet a break and sit by a window for a minute.
After you’re fed and rested, go downstairs. If you think the prices upstairs are good, the marketplace is a free-for-all (it’s not free and little bits add up, so don’t forget that as you’re piling that next piece of tableware into your bag.) If you haven’t grabbed a cart yet, you should now. If you have filled up your little cart, you should consider a bigger one. There is all manner of homegoods in the marketplace, so keep in mind what you don’t need. If you don’t need a new set of dishes, keep moving. If you don’t need a new rug, keep moving. It is really tempting to stop and look at everything, but you don’t want to be there all day, remember we’re trying to make it out in less than 3 hours.
Things of note: They have excellent prices on window treatments and hardware. I highly recommend you check these out if you are considering new ones. All their drapery comes in one or two sizes and is meant for you to hem to the proper size to fit your room. This can be easily done without sewing if you buy the fusable tape they have there for this purpose. All you need for this is an iron and about 15 minutes.
If you are looking for lighting, it is best to buy the whole kit and caboodle there. Their lampshades fit their lamps really well, not so much if you mix and match with American products, the shades just don’t fit well. You can also pick up bulbs there as well and their LEDs are very reasonably priced.
The warehouse: You will more than likely be pulling most of your products yourself. A lot of these are extremely heavy because 90% of IKEA is made of particleboard. If you are getting something big, you will need a flat pallet cart, possibly the most infuriating of the 3 carts. Whenever you try to lift something heavy onto these carts, they inevitable roll away from you. Big things are a 2-person job. If you can’t wrangle the piece onto the cart yourself, there are helpful and friendly IKEA personnel wandering the store who will help you. Don’t be all like “I can do it myself!” Get help, you’ll be glad you did. And again, good luck steering, just remember: Momentum. Some of the really big things like couches can only be pulled by store personnel, so if you don’t see a location listed on your piece of choice, go to the furniture counter past the check-out and the’ll get it for you.
As you get to the check-out area, don’t pass up the scratch and dent section near the cash registers. You can get some great stuff already assembled in here. I actually like to start here, but for a short trip you can leave it till the end.
When you check out, you will have to surrender your big yellow bag if you have one. If you’d like, you can buy a big blue bag for $1 at the checkout to bring your things home in. Keep in mind, you will have to bag everything yourself and if you have anything fragile, they have packing paper at the registers for you to wrap it in.
Now go get yourself a cinnamon roll and celebrate a successful shopping trip. You've earned it!