IKEA is a global company known for its ready-to-assemble DIY “flat pack” furniture, the innovation of its Swedish founder Ingrar Kamprad – from which IKEA gets its first two letters – the last two initials representing the two places where he grew up. (I didn’t know this, and found it to be an interesting little tidbit of information.) I also found it interesting that Kamprad began his business career at the age of five when he started selling matches to neighbors. Eventually, he began to sell other items that ranged from seeds, to fish, to Christmas décor. I’m fascinated with the stories of entrepreneurs that start out selling some small item from their garage and end up making it big in the world!
My husband Steve and I had shopped at an IKEA in Bloomington, Minnesota, but I don’t think that properly prepared us for our experience in Nuremberg, Germany. Before leaving on our adventure, I searched the internet to see if I might be able to find some time-saving tips. I thought that might be helpful as I was traveling with a non-shopper. I did find a few comments that made me feel a little uneasy:
“IKEA is one of those places that can save you a ton of money on home décor and furnishings if you make the most of it…or, it can make you lose your religion. Having a plan insures a successful visit.”
“You can always count on seeing couples fighting at IKEA. Be prepared for a breakup.”
“You haven’t really experienced shopping in Germany until you have gone to IKEA. It almost feels like you’re a mouse in a science project and you can’t get out once you get in.”
Steve and I had a plan. We wanted to pick up a nice desk/work table for my office. That was pretty much it. Simple plan. The other part of the plan was to leave immediately after his Christmas office party to head to Nuremberg. It is this experience that inspired me to share a list of tips with any other prospective shoppers out there planning a visit to IKEA.
#1. Under no circumstances, EVER, shop at an IKEA in Germany on a Saturday! (Maybe not an IKEA anywhere!)
#2. Under no circumstances, EVER, shop at an IKEA during the Christmas season! (If you do find yourself combining #1 and #2, you COULD very possibly lose your religion and your marriage – as previously warned.)
#3. Review #1 and #2
#4. While your husband is parking the car in the last spot, of the far corner of the back 40, don’t bother wasting your time trying to study the large layout map at the entry of the store thinking you’ll gain any advantage. You’re going to run into words that look like kleideraufbewahrung, schneidebretter, and zeitschrifensammler. Better to spend your time scouting out where the restrooms are.
#5. While you’re still waiting on your husband who is finding his way through the maze of thousands of cars, and a Christmas-tree throwing contest, don’t bother grabbing a shopping cart, thinking that will give you any kind of advantage. You won’t be able to get it up the escalator.
#6. Once you relocate your husband and head up the escalator without a shopping cart, don’t think you’re being smart to grab another abandoned cart in the far corner when you reach the next level. No one, and I mean NO ONE else was pushing their cart through the throngs of people, except us! We grabbed a few small items to place in our cart just so it didn’t look foolishly empty. The first floor is mainly a showroom area arranged in attractive layouts. If you find an item of interest, jot down the number. You’ll need this later.
#7. If a small, panicky child comes running up to you with imploring eyes, crying “Mama! Mama!” – do not try to console the child in English as it will only make matters worse. Flag down the nearest store clerk. When she looks at you with a blank expression as you’re trying to explain in English that said child is lost, just point to the child and say, “Mama! Mama!” She’ll catch on quickly.
#8. Do not under any circumstances pick a lost child up in your arms and try to console them. When the distressed parents come running and see you holding their child, they might think you were trying to kidnap them. (I played it smart and resisted the urge.)
#9. When you are finished with your shopping and ready to pick up your selected furniture, you must stop at one of the computer kiosks and look up your item. When you are staring blankly at a screen full of German instructions, you just wait until you hear someone walking behind you who is speaking English, then you kindly grab them and ask for help. They will also be kind enough to tell you to take your information to the lady standing under the blue sign.
#10. When the blue-sign lady starts speaking to you in German and you don’t understand, try a different language you might know, such as Spanish. My husband tried this, and it worked! This young lady actually understood a little Spanish! Europeans are multi-lingual. So, if you do speak another language, it’s worth a try. Spanish is actually quite helpful in Italy.
#11. When you have finished your shopping, don’t just automatically make a bee-line for the shortest check-out line. It’s probably going to be the express lane, and you may have too many items to qualify. Fortunately for me, my observant husband had already found an appropriate line. Unfortunately, I had inadvertently cut a man off in the express lane and received a tongue-lashing in German. The nice thing was, I didn’t understand a word. He had a cart piled to the ceiling with flat-pack boxes. It was kind of fun to watch him when he, too, realized he was in the express lane and had to go looking for another line. This is not easy to do when there are five lanes with hundreds of people, and you’re pushing a cart with enough boxes to build an entire house.
#12. Resist the urge to stock up on cookies while you’re waiting in line. Once you get through the line (an hour later) there is still more shopping on the other side. There is a nice little mini-mart with a better selection of cookies, along with juices, cheese, sausages, and all kinds of jams and jellies. I am told the IKEA ginger snaps are a favorite. That will have to be on my list for the next trip.
#13. While in Germany, you need to take your own shopping bags – even in the grocery stores. While in line at IKEA, decide if you need to pick up one of their super-sized, inexpensive shopping bags. This may make it easier for transferring items into your car, and later when you arrive home.
#14. At this point, you’re still not finished with your IKEA shopping experience. It’s now time to go get a number and wait in line at Customer Service to submit your VAT form (Value Added Tax.) My husband estimated that we would be saving forty dollars by submitting our form. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth the forty dollars to have to stand in line for another hour to hour and a half. IKEA provides a very nice waiting area with comfy seats and even some foosball set up for your personal entertainment. However, when you are shopping on a Saturday during the Christmas season, you will not be anywhere near a comfy seat. There were hundreds of people milling around, and our number wasn’t anywhere close to the number being flashed on the screen as “next.”
#14. If you are lucky, really lucky, as we were – you’ll meet a nice American family while you’re waiting and enjoy a friendly visit. They blessed us with an extra number tag they had that saved us about a 40-minute wait in line. Later we found out…they’re assigned to the same military base where we are located, and within a few days, we met up again just like we were old friends!
Well, hopefully these tips will be helpful to anyone planning an upcoming visit to IKEA. When I was doing my internet search, I read that when IKEA first opened their store in Shanghai, China – 80,000 customers showed up! I wouldn’t be surprised if our visit to Nuremberg topped that record. Just joking, of course, but maybe not. One small glitch. When we got home with my desk/work table, my husband decided he liked it so well, he wanted one for his office, as well. So, we had to plan another visit to IKEA. This time we decided to play it smart. We decided to try out the IKEA in Regensburg, which is a little smaller store. We also shopped on a Monday. Well…it was WUNDERBAR! We were able to park close, managed to get to the café for a lunch of Swedish meatballs and potatoes, and even got a table by the big window with a “scenic view” of the Autobahn! (This would not have happened in Nuremberg. We wouldn’t have even been able to locate the cafe for the crowd.)
And my desk/worktable? We couldn’t find another one just like it, so my husband took mine! I didn’t mind, though. I got one bigger and better! I must say, IKEA furniture is good, solidly built furniture, and we are very pleased.
One last tip…
#15. Make sure your husband is handy, as mine is, at putting furniture together!