You've got to hand it to them, those guys at IKEA are a clever lot. Who else would have dreamed up a store layout based on a snakes and ladders board? Which other store makes you walk through all the departments you don't want to visit? Who else would get away with making it impossible to take your trolley to your car but make you bring your car to the trolley instead?
Have you ever been to an IKEA store and left without buying something you didn't intend to buy? How many tea light candles have you got in your kitchen drawer? I've got enough to re-light Times Square for a year.
On the other hand, how many times have you left without something you did intend to buy. No doubt it was out of stock. Not a lot of point checking beforehand because they turn over the stuff so fast that it can be out of stock again before you've even reversed your car out of the drive.
Then there are those times when you left thinking that you did indeed buy what you intended then you drive home with the boxes sticking out three feet through the car window only to get there, open the box and discover that it contains something else entirely. Or maybe it contains only 497 of the 498 little bits required to build the bloody thing.
To be fair though, it does have its good points. Those hot dogs aren't half bad but my absolute favorite is the row of cages beside the exit where you can leave the dog or the children whilst you go to retrieve your car. I've occasionally seen people leave their trolleys in them too.
More often than not though, a visit to IKEA is not good for the blood pressure.
Needless to say, I have had occasion to drop them a line of complaint but I can't be the only one. There must have been millions of complaint letters sent to IKEA as it crawled its way across the globe like a retail equivalent of the Swine Flu pandemic.
Send me your IKEA letters! I'll publish them here. I'll start the ball rolling with my own contribution:
Miss Business and the Three Legged Desk
This letter to the IKEA store in Leeds dates back to about 1996 when I was trying to furnish my study at home. It resulted in a telephone call from the UK managing Director of IKEA who, it has to be said, was extremely helpful. I never did see Ms. Business again despite continued regular visits to the store.
Dear Customer Relations,
Effectiv Office Furniture
A couple of months ago, an IKEA Business catalogue arrived at my architectural practice and immediately gained my attention as I was in the process of designing an extension to my own home - including a good sized study.
I have to say that I was fairly impressed by the range and having decided what I would need to create an ideal workspace, I even sized the extension to accommodate the furniture. Earlier this month the extension was completed and I set out to buy my 2 desks, bookshelf, drawer unit, chair, filing cabinet etc etc. I established by telephone that I was not allowed to order my furniture because it was for home and not the office and I therefore had no reason to open a business account (which turned out to be a big mistake!).
My wife and I therefore set out taking both family cars (there was a lot to transport) on the 92 mile round trip to your store. In that you routinely seem to out of stock of much of the Ikea Business range, we seem to have been lucky that we ended up short of only one 140 x 70cm desk. We were advised by your young lady (I shall call her Ms. Business) that in future we should always ring and check that the required items were in stock before making the 92 mile round trip next time.
On reaching the service desk in the warehouse, we were informed by Mr. Warehouse that Ms. Business had only arranged for us to have three legs for our first desk (her logic presumably being that we could support one corner on a pile of Ikea catalogues until we managed to locate another desk and three more legs to complete the L-shape we were hoping for!). Mr. Warehouse kindly amended the paperwork and we went on our way.
Before making the 92 mile round trip again tonight, I followed the advice of Ms. Business and I telephoned and was told that yes, you had the desk top and two more silver legs and the rail connector thing that stopped both three-legged desks from falling over. I subsequently arrived at the store and asked for my desk top, my two remaining legs and my connector thing that stops that stops the desks falling over, was given my slip of paper and went off to see Mr. Warehouse again (spending lots of extra money on other items along the way). I was handed my trolley, paid for my purchases and left to load the stuff into my car.
It was then that I thought "Hang on a minute, that was a bit cheaper than I was expecting" and I opened the box containing the desk top. No rails. How in God's name did Ms. Business expect me to attach the legs! So, eventually getting back through the doors which only open when your going outwards, I ask Mr. Security to guard my trolley and I start the whole procedure over again.
I tell Ms. Business that she hasn't given me any rails (which, of course she knows damn well) and the conversation goes like this:
Ms. Business: "There's only five sets of silver rails in stock and there all reserved for business account holders so you can't have them."
Me: "But I telephoned in advance just like you said and you said you had it all in stock"
Ms. Business: "Ah, but you didn't ask whether we had any rails in did you?"
(So it had been the very same Ms. Business I had spoken to)
Me: "Oh for Pete's sake..."
Ms. Business: "If you're going to be abusive I'll refuse to serve you"
Me: "Since when has 'For Pete's Sake' been abusive?"
Ms. Business: Silence
At this moment being abusive seemed like a really good idea which would have made me feel a whole lot better. Strangling the woman would have cured me completely. I nonetheless restrained myself admirably under the circumstances.
Now strictly speaking, Ms. Business had been correct in that I had not checked whether you had any silver rails in stock. Nor had I asked for any. I was stupid enough to think that when you ask for a desk top and legs, you get the things that join them together. It did not take a degree in engineering for Ms. Business to figure this out (when I asked for the stuff, or earlier when I had phoned to see if it was in stock) Indeed, when I bought the first desk, I did not ask for rails either but they miraculously appeared on my trolley.
So far, it has taken nearly three weeks, about six hours of my time and 276 miles of driving to get to the stage where I have still not got enough bits to put my furniture finally together. Ms. Business expects me to drive another 92 miles, waste another 3 hours of my time and put up with her snotty, smart-arsed attitude to get one last box of bits. Even then, having phoned again to make sure they're there, I've got to get there before she has the chance to sell the bloody things or reserve them for a business account holder.
Surely, there must be a way that I can get the missing bits without going through this charade. I have spent the thick end of a thousand pounds in your store this month and have been treated very badly. In the circumstances, can I send a cheque and have you send me the goods without charging me your normal delivery rates? Please can I have some customer care?
Thank You to IKEA for a Weekend of Adventure
This next letter is almost as old as mine above. It was written by Keith Snyder from Brooklyn in New York in 1998 after a visit to the IKEA store across the Hudson in New Jersey. If I didn't know better, I would have thought this was written by an Englishman (and that's meant to be a compliment!) My appreciation to Keith for allowing me to reproduce the letter here. Keith has his own blog at http://www.journalscape.com/keithsnyder
To: Ikea Customer Service
8352 Honeygo Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21236
July 18, 1998
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am taking a break from assembling my 73x73 "Expedit" wall unit to express to you my gratitude for how interesting Ikea has made my life today.
What could have been simply another boring weekend has been transformed into an adventure, the likes of which I experience only when I shop at and subsequently assemble furniture sold by your lovely company.
My first thank-you goes to the service counter, where they increased my sense of suspense by drawing out the "fifteen-minute wait" by an additional fifteen minutes! How clever! They knew I'd be doubly happy when my gray "Expedit" wall unit finally appeared.
This same impish sense of humor was evident when, after the hour's drive back home, I unboxed my gray "Expedit" wall unit to find that it was a black "Expedit" wall unit. Please forward my thanks to the service staff for sensing my poor interior design choice and taking it upon themselves to correct it.
Still chuckling over this delightful detour to my expectation, I began to assemble my black "Expedit" wall unit.
In hiring documentation writers who place clarity above simplicity, most companies reveal that they are humorless entities without the personal touch. Ikea is to be commended for their choice to create assembly instructions which not only do not use words at all -- thus allowing people who may not speak the world's primary languages to enjoy the identical experience on long Saturdays around the globe -- but which allow the illustrator free range for his own personal artistic license. A less creative, free-spirited company would balk at releasing technical drawings which show holes where they are not and do not show holes where they are, which do not explicitly show the consumer how to differentiate the side pieces from the top, nor the top from the bottom, and which have no indication of the fact that the shelves are not intended to sit atop their supports, but rather surround them. But I have learned to look forward to Ikea's droll, delightful, impressionist documentation. After all, if Seurat can create the impression of people at a French seaside using only colored dots, why should an Ikea technical illustrator not create only the impression of accuracy?
Also please thank your documentation team for allowing me the luxury of putting aside my precious projects for an hour or two of three-dimensional puzzle-solving. How did you know I so enjoy Rubik's Cube and Chinese woodblocks? I have had my black "Expedit" wall unit assembled and disassembled three times now, and I still have not solved it! A hearty congratulations to your dedicated staff-- I assemble and disassemble things all the time as part of owning a music studio, and you've managed to do what teams of Japanese, Dutch, and American documentation writers have failed to: You've got me stymied! I'll beat you on this next go-round, though; I believe I now see it. Of course, the only reason I see it is that I seem to have run out of other combinations, but a brute force solution beats none.
(I do, however, think it is not entirely fair play to hide so many of the pre-drilled holes. I can see hiding one or two, but gluing veneer over two entire sides and leaving only the faintest dimples as evidence of the holes lurking beneath them seems a bit out-of-bounds and not quite preux, wouldn't you say?)
Please also forward my thanks to whoever designed the veneer. While most consumers would be satisfied with a nice, clean, smooth, featureless gray -- oops, I mean black! -- surface, you were able to discern that I prefer to think of myself as an individualist, and would thus find such perfection boring. I'm very impressed with your foresight: Kudos to you for knowing that after the third complete reassembly and repositioning of my black "Expedit" wall unit, not a surface would remain unchipped. I am now the very proud owner of a brand new $249 shelf unit which looks as though it did not survive that last Florida hurricane. Thank you so much for allowing me to express my non-conformity through my interior furnishings.
Please also relay my gratitude to the sophisticate who intuited that six would be too symmetrical a number of plastic feet for the bottom of such a work of art, and who therefore removed one from my package, a subtle and insightful move, and one more commonly associated with the Futurist art movement than with most furniture stores. The positioning of five plastic feet into six pre-drilled holes was an unexpected and delightful intellectual and aesthetic challenge, and one which brought a wry smile and a colorful comment to my lips.
It seems I have so many things for which to be grateful that I would simply drone on forever if I tried. If you continue to give all your customers such excellent solutions to their needs - needs they weren't even aware they had, wow! - the future of your company is easy to predict. After all, happy customers are return customers.
I now return to my $249 chipped, incorrectly (re-re-)assembled, black "Expedit" weekend project. Although I would love to do this all the time, I cannot always get to New Jersey, so next weekend, as a way of replicating the experience, I am considering staying home and banging myself repeatedly on the head with a hammer.
My best regards,