Prof Calls IKEA Layout Tortuous

Discussion
Jan 27, 2011
Tom Ryan

Describing it as "more S&M than M&S," a U.K.
professor claims IKEA has been successful largely because its floor design
is maze-like and confuses shoppers.

A study by Alan Penn, director of the Virtual
Reality Centre for the Built Environment at University College London, found
that IKEA’s zig-zag trail quickly leaves a customer disoriented about where
the exits are and thereby coerces them to shop the whole store and pick up
impulse items. Sixty percent of items purchased at IKEA are unplanned purchases,
he claims.

The professor based his findings on a study of IKEA’s north London
store. At a presentation he gave on January 18, the professor said the study
aimed to explain why a "lot of people who go there don’t enjoy it
but still seem to keep going." (His presentation has been posted
on YouTube
.)

"In IKEA’s case, you have to follow a set path past what is effectively
their catalogue in physical form, with furniture placed in different settings
which is meant to show you how adaptable it is," he told the Daily
Telegraph
. "By
the time you get to the warehouse where you can actually buy the stool or whatever’s
caught your eye, you’re so impressed by how cheap it is that you end up getting
it."

While stores have short-cuts to meet fire safety requirements, they
are not clearly in the shopper’s vision.

"Also you’re directed through their marketplace area where a staggering
amount of purchases are impulse buys, things like lightbulbs or a cheap casserole
that you weren’t planning on getting," he told the Telegraph. "Here
the trick is that because the layout is so confusing you know you won’t be
able to go back and get it later, so you pop it in your trolley as you go past."

More
grid-like layouts such as John Henry create a more open and accessible environment,
he said.

Carole Reddish, IKEA’s deputy managing director for U.K. and Ireland,
said the layout is designed to inspire.

"Our furniture showrooms are designed to give our customers lots of ideas
for every area of the home, including your kitchen, bedroom and living room," she
told the Daily Mail. "While some of our customers come to us for
a day out to get inspiration for every room, we appreciate that others may
have looked at the IKEA catalogue or online offer, have a specific shopping
list in mind and would like to get in and out quickly. So to make it easier
for those customers, we have created shortcuts."

Discussion Questions: What do you think of “one-way” layouts such as IKEA’s versus grid-like store layout designs? Do you think annoyance with restrictive layouts can backfire with customers?

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21 Comments on "Prof Calls IKEA Layout Tortuous"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I’m torn on this. As a customer, I feel like a rat in the maze having to go to the third floor and find my way down. As a businessperson, I can appreciate all the impulse numbers. If people say they find it tortuous but return – that’s fine. But if they are like me, try and not return, IKEA could be leaving money on the table.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

How can you argue with this – is there a better example of a store layout accomplishing its goal? The fact that IKEA gets repeat customers at a fairly high level suggests this professor is looking for something insidious and wants us to be outraged, but that he’s one of the few.

And yes, I know the shortcuts in IKEA (as well as the concourse C shortcut at Frankfurt).

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Torture is IKEA’s middle name! These store layouts are difficult, confusing, and although they clearly work, aggravating to say the least. IKEA should get more feedback from their customers and at least consider less demanding (read; easier to exit) store layouts. This would result in a happier customer, although it might have a short-term impact on their impulse purchases. IKEA can offer alternatives to this to increase their impulse purchases. I agree with the professor’s findings that the chain needs to change these layouts and look for a better, safer, simpler and more pleasing experience for their customers.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Tortuous? Yes! Torturous? No! Macy’s 34th Street is torturous. Bloomingdale’s 59th Street is torturous. Bergdorf Goodman 5th Ave is bizarrely torturous. These stores could learn something about making shopping easy from IKEA. IKEA is a dream to go shopping in. It is very well organized and there is no doubt on where to go if you want certain items. It is set up by house room. What could be easier? If you are looking for kitchen, you go to kitchen. If you are looking for bedroom, you go to bedroom. And if there are items appropriate for multiple rooms you can find the items in each room section. (And I find the shortcuts well marketed and easy to take advantage of.) I fear the professor is trying to make something out of nothing other than good merchandising.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
10 years 3 months ago
I don’t believe that IKEA’s maze layout is easily migrated to other retail concepts. If you’ve spent time in furniture stores you’ll notice that nearly all of them have intriguing distant vistas which open to whole new sections you didn’t know existed when you first walked into the store, compelling you to shop the entire furniture store. IKEA didn’t create the concept but they may have “perfected” it through their ability to add impulse merchandise. Mass merchants would be far less succesfull emulating such a design as their assortments, while certainly filled with impulse merchandising, tend to be more organized as a result of customer needs. A customer walking into a Walmart wanting to buy snacks for the Super Bowl doesn’t want to wander around aimlessly being shown all sorts of produce and products they aren’t interested in, they want to go straight to the snack aisle, get their stuff and check out. IKEA’s concept, in a modified way, might work for specialty retailers like Michaels or Claires. It is certainly an intriguing idea as… Read more »
Tina Lahti
Guest
Tina Lahti
10 years 3 months ago

Between the maze-like store configuration and bad lighting, I find shopping at IKEA to be absolute torture. I only go there when I really have to. In the end, I spend less that I would otherwise. If I could get in and out of the kitchen and home and garden areas quickly I would be much more prone to impulse purchases at IKEA.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 3 months ago

It is awful. I shop there on occasion if necessary but try to avoid it. I have relatives who will not go there. While the experience is anecdotal, I tend to believe that I am not alone.

JULIE QUICK
Guest
JULIE QUICK
10 years 3 months ago

IKEA, and layouts like it, forget that the shopper is boss. While IKEA’s maze delivers a very controlled experience and exposes shoppers to their full array of merchandise, it also frustrates shoppers on time, navigation and other factors. If I’m thinking about what’s making me mad, am I really paying attention to all the cool furniture and accessories around me?

Plus, the “one way to shop” stores like IKEA limit themselves as being “one kind of trip,” in this case, the luxury of spending hours. For all the money they may gain in per-trip spending, what are they losing because shoppers can’t just run in and out for a couple of things?

Deborah Octernaud
Guest
Deborah Octernaud
10 years 3 months ago

As an IKEA shopper near Chicago, I find that the layout does provide for decorating inspiration, but creates very painful traffic jams. All Chicagoans know that you NEVER go to IKEA on the weekends because the surrounding states, and outlaying cities bus in shoppers. You cannot shop when you can’t move and I think it’s a tremendous fire hazard. I have often left the store exasperated by the crowd and bought furniture instead at Value City Furniture–slightly better quality, no assembly necessary and personal service with slightly higher price–but worth it. Missed opportunity for IKEA!!

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

As a shopper, I’m not a fan of IKEA’s layout; as a business person, I think it’s genius. It’s one thing to hit the IKEA maze in the middle of the day, quite another to get there first thing in the morning. There you are, crushed up against the throng and then, the maze opens! IKEA associates funnel all of the lemmings into the initial vignette and finally the crowd disperses. The memory of the initial indignity soon fades as everyone obsesses on the possibility of missing a vignette–“Wait. I swear I haven’t seen this room yet. Hold on!” By the time you hit the cafe (what timing! I was getting hungry), you might have even formed a few casual friendships with others who share your taste (or at least they seemed to during the three hours spent browsing with them). Infuriating and strangely satisfying.

Edmund Apperson
Guest
Edmund Apperson
10 years 3 months ago

Hate it. I will not shop at IKEA because of the way they ‘herd” you through the store.

SONIA ACOSTA
Guest
SONIA ACOSTA
10 years 3 months ago

Genius! The goal of a retailer is to try to get the consumer to buy more. Keeping them in the store longer means higher sales. I like that I can see everything without having to think much of where I should go. And in those occasions when I did need to run in and out, that’s exactly what I did. Just asked an employee where to go. Genius layout!

Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

People “hate” Stew Leonard’s too. But he sells $100 million a year vs. $20 million in grid supermarkets. Get a grip! The single path is a tremendous boon to shoppers, relieving them of the overwhelming burden of navigation. Will they tell you that? NO! They don’t “know” any more about it than the commentariat. But their actions speak louder than words–same as at IKEA.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I think it’s a confusing maze. My wife knows the layout inside and out. She knows every short cut and she revels in using them. Which one of us do you think spends a lot more money there? Which one of us is IKEA (properly) targeting with their layout? How valuable a shopper do you think this professor is?

I think they are just fine.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
Retail guru that I am, I figured this out on my first visit to IKEA (yes, the North London branch) a very very long time ago. Unlike other customers, I did not succumb and purchase things for which I had no need just because they were cheap and cheerful. I did, however, come close to having a panic attack because I couldn’t find the way out. And the one thing my husband wanted to buy, he decided against when he realised that he couldn’t just pluck it off the shelf but would have to locate it in the warehouse after trudging miles through the entire store. Nor did I go back again for 20 years. My second experience was one of necessity, lead by my son who was familiar with the whole operation and got us there at opening time midweek but, again, I only purchased those things for which I had come. So glad to be vindicated, to an extent, by a professor although I cannot agree with his findings that the mere effort… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 3 months ago

To Mr. Penn’s critique, I would say yes, yes, and yes. IKEA’s layout and presentation is designed exactly to facilitate the unplanned purchase, the impulse buy, and maximize the basket. They can pull it off because they have fascinating assortments, and intriguing items.

Of course, experienced IKEA shoppers know where all the shortcuts are to get quickly to what they want. I know I do. But sometimes the fun is wandering through the maze to see just what you’ll see.

angiretlwire dixon
Guest
angiretlwire dixon
10 years 3 months ago

My comment is slightly off topic.

I think the in-store room setups are great for idea inspiration.

However, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the catalog also showed complete coordinated rooms (including matching pillows and artwork), while the most recent catalogs do not. In the last few years, the catalog just features separate items at a new lower price. I think IKEA is missing the opportunity to build multiple item sales with the newer type catalogs!

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
10 years 3 months ago

IKEA is a destination. It’s not a store you just pop into for some casual browsing, and you have to be prepared for a 3-4 hour trip. Once you’re in, you can’t just turn around and walk out again, you have to go through the entire store. It always reminded me more of going to an art gallery than a store, in terms of its traffic flow. The concept works for people who know what they’re getting into and plan accordingly. Clearly it has been successful and I don’t think IKEA should change a thing. To its devotees, I think the format is part of the appeal.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 3 months ago

Maybe I am splitting hairs but mazes do not come with large painted arrows on the floor indicating which direction to take next! The IKEA layout is indeed maze-like but the experience is better described as a walk-through. You do not, ever, return to the exact same spot if you follow the path.

As for the professor’s conclusion, it is very academic. This retailer is successful simply because shoppers are confused…and they keep coming back? Pul-eeze! This retailer is successful because people like to see how a piece of furniture is going to look in an actual setting. Most people are visual and the IKEA displays work. Also the styles are current and the prices affordable. I would say the occasional visit to IKEA “maze” is actually kinda fun to most people. I am not sure where Dr Crankypants got his data from!

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Like many of my colleagues, I am torn on this discussion. The few times I have shopped IKEA I have not enjoyed the maze-like environment. But I have made purchases I had no intention of when I came in. So, from a business standpoint, IKEA has made it easy for me to spend more by confusing me on how to leave the store. Yet, my second thought is I have not returned often because of the difficulty in maneuvering through the store.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 3 months ago

I can see where a “one-way” design would backfire, especially for grocery, c-store and drug store chains. But for high-browse environments like home furnishings, I don’t see it as a big problem. Consumers are shopping such high-browse environments on a more infrequent basis, so while it may get a bit confusing and a tad infuriating, it’s not like the consumer will be back every week. That said, for any retailer opting to walk down such a store path, I’d suggest also taking some steps to alleviate any shopper anger, like good signage, staff training and maps.

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