IKEA Confuses Shoppers, Encourages Clutter, and Exploits Workers

ikea maze image

Image credit PSFK

It has been a hard week for IKEA in both the mainstream print and the internet media. There are many things to love about the company that made good modern design affordable and desirable, but I have often complained of what I call The Curse of IKEA, where the globalized cheap has run everyone else off the planet. Now we are learning about how they do it.

PSFK points to a study by a professor of architecture who I am sure has shocked, shocked everyone with his thesis that the IKEA store designers try to take us on the longest route through the store.

University College Professor of Architecture Alan Penn estimates that 60% of purchases are impulse buys. He is quoted:

I have little doubt that the design to take shoppers past every room setting in the showroom, before they are taken downstairs and led past every product in the 'marketplace' is completely intentional. The sinuous route that results is disorienting and confusing, and leads shoppers to put items in their trolley when they first see them because they cannot be certain that they would find them again.

Quel surprise, really. The Wall Street Journal's take on this: IKEA as Rat-Maze


In the LA Times, Nathaniel Popper writes an extraordinary article, Ikea's U.S. factory churns out unhappy workers.

There are disgruntled overworked workers, discrimination lawsuits, union organizing campaigns and real questions about how American workers are treated.

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days -- eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What's more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Swedwood's Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. "That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries," Steen said.

Indeed. Andrew Leonard at Salon is not impressed:

Of course that's exactly the same line you hear when American outsourcers are justifying the low wages paid to employees on the assembly line in China or Mexico or Vietnam. Turns out, the United States isn't "exceptional" at all. To keep up with the challenge of foreign competition, our plan is to crack down on our own working class until our sweatshops are just as oppressive as any other developing nation's.

IKEA ad that "used cats as the undisputed creatures of comfort to see what made them happy in IKEA's Wembley store."

Finally, the Unclutterer points to an Australian book review of "The Truth About IKEA: The Secret Behind the World's Fifth Richest Man and the Success of the Swedish Flatpack Giant" that notes that IKEA encourages us to buy more stuff, and then sells us furniture to make it look like less stuff. Richard Johnstone writes about Johan Stenebo's book:

For Stenebo, "one of IKEA's absolute competitive advantages is the fantastic capacity to in a subtle way, almost unnoticeably, manoeuvre your purchases." In other words, while IKEA encourages us to subscribe to the modernist design aesthetic that less is more, it manages at the same time to convince us - and this is the truly brilliant bit - that more is less. By means of a sophisticated sequence of in-store placements and displays, we are led to buy not just a sofa but a lamp and some drinking glasses and some other bits and pieces as well, all the while under the illusion that the process being engaged in is not one of randomly accumulating stuff but of de-cluttering and streamlining an overcrowded life.

He concludes:

The most we can hope for is to keep our clutter out of sight and to create the illusion of order. To that end, IKEA provides drawers under beds and compartments in headboards, shelves built into coffee tables, "interior organisers," "clothes storage systems" and "TV-related storage solutions with a smart inside."

More in Inside Story
IKEA: Is It Green?
10 Great, Green Design Products From Ikea (Slideshow)
In Paris, IKEA Makes Waiting for the Bus a Pleasure
IKEA Thanks USA Staff With 12,400 Free Bicycles

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