If you've ever experienced that disoriented feeling of trying to find the exit at Ikea, but all you find are cheap wine glasses, one pack of scented Tindra candles and five boxes of ginger snaps you never meant to buy - it happens to everyone.
In a recent lecture, Alan Penn, an architectural computing professor at the University College in London, said that each Ikea showroom is intentionally designed to disorientate the shopper. By meandering through the confusing labyrinth of picture-perfect living spaces, the shopper is left feeling "licensed to impulse purchase." In short, the shopper becomes lost, cracks and buys the cheap wine glasses.
"By the time you get to the Marketplace [area of Ikea]you've spent half an hour walking past bedrooms and bathrooms and living rooms and all these things you didn't actually come here for, but getting subliminal messages about what goes with what," Prof. Penn says. "Before long, you've got a trolley full of stuff that are not the things you came there for."
Take a look at the video, it gets juicy around the 25:30 mark.
The result? Sixty per cent of what people buy aren't actually on their original shopping list. Even the people who hate shopping at Ikea, Prof. Penn points out, still seem to keep coming back. It's part of the recipe that makes Ikea one of the most successful retailers ever. Good magazine likens it to the "Gruen transfer," a theory that pinpoints the moment when confused shoppers respond to "scripted disorientation" by impulsively buying things. Named after the Austrian architect Victor Gruen, the Gruen transfer is by no means unique to Ikea.
Of course, there's already a foundation of cult-like obsession with the Scandinavian behemoth. On Facebook, the official Ikea group has almost 40,000 members, while the group "I have an unhealthy obsession with Ikea" has over 1,200 members. One commenter writes, "why should we buy stuff at ikea for our houses? let's move into the shop!!!!" while others lament that Ikea clothing and cars don't exist.
But is all of this really necessary when the magnetic lure of a $9.99 table is already there? Going the extra mile of intentionally creating a black hole-like shopping experience seems almost unfair coming from this Goliath that, presumably, has already put many a mom-and-pop furniture store out of business. Not that Ikea is the only culprit of things cheap and well-designed. Think of the celebrated announcement that Target will be coming to Canada and to our hopeless devotion to Wal-Mart. With our love for cheap, beautiful things aplenty, retailers surely needn't try this hard to open our wallets, especially when we were already reaching for them.
Have you ever gotten lost at Ikea and bought more than you wanted to? Or are you unhealthily obsessed with the Swedish furniture chain anyway?