IKEA’s Beauty and its Beast

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I appreciate the utility of IKEA. It’s a great business model, the products are solid, if not above average in terms of quality and customer’s appreciate the “beauty” it provides.  Its products are an epiphany for people who want utility at a reasonable price point. The easiest products range from baskets, to curtains, to other low tech storage items that require little if no assembly with price points that are reasonable when compared to other retailers. And there’s the overall experience. Who wouldn’t want to cruise through some of the largest retail stores in the world on a Saturday afternoon and then be rewarded with Swedish meatballs? I mean come on, there’s even homemade cinnamon rolls.

But there’s another side of IKEA, that if you’ve never experienced it, could decrease your overall assessment of IKEA’s utility. It’s the insidious larger furniture items that take hours and personal stress to assemble. You know, the ones with more pieces that can be a beast to deal with.  The ones that look almost too good to be true.  Not bed frames with limited assembly or parts,  rather things like larger armoires, funky desks and other kitchen storage units.

Case in point was when I assembled a kitchen cart for the new house. It has wheels, a large cutting surface and even hooks to hang our new pans. After spending about an hour and a half assembling, and almost completing the task, I realized the wooden side pieces were not going to fit. I tried several different methods of loosening and adjusting, even asking my wife to help. Still no success. After spending at least another hour + trying to solve the issue, I finally called IKEA. Their advice was to bring it back to the store and have their customer service staff do a quality review of the product.  I packed up a half finished product and returned for my second cinnamon roll of the weekend.

Back at the store, they determined the same thing that I had figured out…the parts didn’t fit. However, they couldn’t guarantee that it wasn’t simply a design flaw in the item itself.  Their new offer: take another one home and try again. If it works, great. If not, bring it back for a refund. At this point, I’ve spent almost 8 hours dealing with IKEA and it’s products over the weekend. I decided to try it again. Maybe my Irish luck would pan out. WRONG. Same issue with the second one indicated it was a design flaw and not my construction ineptitude at play. Now I have an 90% finished kitchen cart with two options. Take it back or make it work.  Luckily my contractor was at the house this time. A short cut (literally) with the circular saw and the pieces now fit.

Again, the prices on such items are typically below market and appear at least from what you see at the store, to be of above average quality materials and construction.  And IKEA’s brilliance is to convince you that yes, you get this amazingly quality at a low price, with the tradeoff being your time and resources required to assemble such items. I’ve assembled several decent size furniture products from IKEA as as well as ones from Best Buy, West Elm, Target, etc.  So though my friends would tell you, I am not handy nor really enjoy building things, I can follow directions and typically complete these types of furniture exercises.  However,  my recent experience with IKEA products led me to this conclusion: Those sneaky Swedes have figured out how to sell us products that if not perfect, we are the ones that adapt and adjust.  Try that one in your chosen profession!

My new IKEA utility equation will be something like this…
IKEA Price + (my hourly cost  * (assembly time + travel time) ) + additional labor/tools required to make it work – adapted and adjusted expectations + cinnamon roll cost (i.e., monetary cost, workout time needed to burn off additional calories) < = Price at any pre assembled furniture store

 

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