Service Smackdown 4: Man vs IKEA

During a period known in these parts as ‘between contracts’ I have been doing a fair bit of home improvement and, inevitably, this has involved a trip to the temple of home-furnishing-and-lifestyle that is IKEA. Time then to put myself into the ring to take on the Swedish behemoth in possibly the most one-sided bout in the Smackdown series. But first a bit of history…

I will always remember my first trip to IKEA: I went to their Wembley store not long after it had opened and not long after my first son was born.  My most profound memory is being stuck in a queue for what seemed like hours with my wife breast-feeding the baby whilst the recalcitrant tills failed to work. IKEA’s mitigation of this less-than-superior experience was a circulating basket of Dime bars. But, hey, I’m easily bought, because I have had countless trips to IKEA, mostly in Croydon, in the subsequent 20+ years.

And here’s the problem, I can’t get to worked up about taking IKEA on because, as the large number of IKEA items in the Bush household attests, I really do quite like them: their products are, mostly, reasonably priced and, if you choose carefully, don’t fall apart too readily. Even the number of faulty/missing parts has diminished and their ability to replace them seems to have improved – at least in my experience.

But a visit to the store will always make me pre-emptively grumpy: usually in anticipation of a frustrating and lengthy customer journey. Yesterday, however, in what was admittedly a fairly focused mission to see how many more Billy bookcases our house could absorb (Bush’s Law: whatever the size of your house it will always be possible to fit in one more) we accomplished the whole business in less than two hours.

Imagine Abba at this point… It’s a bit of an indictment of IKEA that this is seen as a positive. After all I knew what I wanted, but still had to negotiate the windy path through the showroom to check the item still existed, then judiciously apply the shortcuts to get through to the market area (a.k.a. the Temptation Zone) before the warehouse – wherein lies that ultimate prize: the light oak veneered Billy bookcase. Even though these are probably one of the more popular items, the Croydon layout puts them at the very end of the warehouse area – why? However, when I finally found it, Abba started playing on the PA system: a bizarrely beautiful moment…

So having negotiated the various zones of the store, including the malodorous scented candle area, and the car park we collapse into the car with only one blue bag of additional purchases to accompany the bookcase, and some elk sausages (seriously!) to munch on the way home, not exactly happy but relieved that we haven’t been too stressed out or force-fed Dime bars in a lengthy queue.

The bookcase stands in the corner of the newly-decorated study (after all this time I can practically put them up blindfold) and I admit defeat: there just isn’t enough to complain about at IKEA these days. If I think about it I can spot improvements they have made to the customer experience – it’s not superior because there isn’t really anyone they need to be superior to (Habitat? Homebase? Cargo? – are you kidding?) but it’s unique and, in a strange way, that’s enough for most of us.

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