4 Sneaky Ways Ikea Tricks You Into Buying Tons of Stuff You Don't Want or Need
If you’ve ever shopped at Ikea, you probably went in thinking you need a lamp, but you came out the other end with two lamps, a side table, a love seat, and a stomach full of Swedish meatballs. This chain (with 41 massive stores in the U.S.) can tempt even the most tight-fisted among us to spew cash. Why is that?
Well, it turns out Ikea has some sneaky tactics to lure shoppers into opening their wallets. And the good news is, you can rein in your spending at Ikea just by knowing what you’re up against. To make sure you don’t end up with a lot of regrettable purchases, get hip to some of Ikea’s more illusive sales ploys below. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
The maze layout
Unlike most grocery and department stores—where shoppers can get in and out quickly by zipping up and down the aisles—Ikea’s layout forces customers to walk through the entire store in order to reach the checkout. In fact, they helped pioneer the growing maze approach to retailing.
Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and author of “Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health,” considers it a brilliant sales strategy.
“The longer Ikea can keep you in the store, the more likely you are to purchase things that you weren’t planning on buying,” he explains.
What should you do? Ikea employees admit that their stores do have shortcuts that allow you to cut through the maze layout. As for where they are, feel free to ask a store clerk; he or she may take pity on you and point them out. Or else, when in doubt, venture off the main path—which is the long way for sure—and slip your way through any small openings you spot between the displays. Pick one direction, never waver, and you’ll eventually reach the other side.
The cheap meatballs
Running low on energy? Ikea boasts a restaurant that sells hearty food at low prices, including its famous Swedish meatballs ($4.99 for a plate of 10). Some customers even go to Ikea just to eat—yes, we’re serious—which may explain why the company’s food division saw sales surge 8% in the U.S. in 2015.
But there’s a slightly duplicitous reason those meatballs and the rest of their food is so cheap, says Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco who studies consumer trends and behaviors.
“It reinforces the idea in shoppers’ minds that the furniture is reasonably priced,” she explains. This is particularly true since many may not have a good gauge on how much furniture costs. So, is $800 a decent price for a couch? You may be foggy on that, but you do know $5 for a plate of meatballs (plus mashed potatoes and gravy) is a deal. So, the thinking goes, if the food’s priced low, everything’s priced low (which isn’t always true).
What should you do? Either eat beforehand or bring your own rations. Or make sure to research the going rate for items you’re hoping to buy so you have a grasp of whether Ikea’s offerings are truly a deal, or it’s just those meatballs talking.
The fully furnished showroomsTake a load off while you shop…
Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
While wandering the maze, you’ll walk through Instagram-worthy bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms, and kitchens that “capitalize on the fact that we’re all cognitively lazy,” says Klontz. “The store has removed the intermediary step of looking at an item and placing it in your home.”
Think of it as if you’re gliding through a beautifully staged open house—“everything is dressed up way better than it’s ever going to look at your house,” says Klontz. (Just take a look at these picture-perfect Ikea bedrooms, each complete with links to individual products.)
This leads shoppers to become enraptured with products that they weren’t intending to purchase.
“What Ikea wants, above all else, is for you to go in and see yourself having a new bedroom or new living room,” says Yarrow, “not just a new mattress or a new coffee table.”
What should you do? Understand that interior designers meticulously arrange Ikea’s furniture. Therefore, unless you can afford to purchase the entire room, ask yourself, “Where am I going to put this product when I get home?” If you don’t have a designated space for it, don’t add it to your cart.
The hard-to-find prices
Because Ikea’s price tags can sometimes be difficult to locate, the store can entice you to fall in love with a product before you even check to see how much it costs. And once you’re roped in, it’s hard to imagine yourself not buying it. Granted, Ikea isn’t unique in this strategy—a lot of furniture stores make it difficult for shoppers to find price tags—but it’s still an effective way to subtly push customers to load up their carts with products that they don’t need.
“People don’t like to be reminded how much money they’re spending, so they’re inclined to buy more things when they can’t see the price of the product right away,” says Klontz.
What should you do? Research prices in advance so that you know how much money you need, then to ensure that you stick to a budget, bring only that amount of cash with you to the store.
“Leave your credit card at home if you can’t afford to spend extra money on impulse purchases,” says Yarrow. “That’s the only way to guarantee that you’re not going to buy things that you don’t need.”