IKEA is one of the most well-known and largest furniture suppliers in the world. But even with all the hype surrounding IKEA products, there’s still plenty that the public doesn’t know about. So what goes on behind the scenes at IKEA stores? Some of the employees are telling all, from the most surprising facts and inside scoop, to the most helpful hacks to improve your shopping experience.
1. IKEA Stores Are All Set Up With Very Specific Requirements
No matter which of the 313 IKEA stores someone decides to visit in any of the 38 countries and territories the store serves, shoppers might notice that they all pretty much look the same. That’s because IKEA stores stick to a very specific, very well-thought-out design method.
Even their signature blue bags are situated in a way so that no matter where anyone is standing in the store, they have a bin in sight. “One could describe it as if IKEA grabs you by the hand and consciously guides you through the store in order to buy as much as possible,” former employee Johan Stenebo wrote in his book The Truth About IKEA.
2. The Famous IKEA Pathway Has A Name
Anyone who has visited any IKEA anywhere in the world will know of IKEA’s famous grey aisles. The pathway wraps through the entire store, snaking its way through each and every section until it reaches the checkout counter. But did anyone know it has its own name?
The pathway is actually called the “Long Natural Way”. It is designed so that shoppers won’t miss a single thing that IKEA features in its gigantic stores. And it is also designed to quite literally keep shoppers on their toes. The path curves every 50 feet or so, in order to ensure that shoppers don’t get bored on their furniture journey.
3. There Are Shortcuts To Get Through The Stores
Maybe someone is short on time, or maybe they don’t want to make the classic mistake of coming for one item and leaving with twenty. Either way, sometimes IKEA shoppers might wish that there was a way to avoid the store’s long, seemingly never-ending pathways. And in those cases, IKEA stores have secret shortcuts that allow shoppers to skip out on the sections that they don’t want to see.
These shortcuts, while hidden, are open to the public. They are purposefully hard to spot, and sometimes might even look like a service door. Unless the door says “Employees Only”, customers are welcome to push it open and see if they’ve successfully found one of these secret shortcuts through the store.
4. Shortcuts Get Changed To Confuse Costumers
At the end of the day, the goal of IKEA stores is for shoppers to see (and hopefully buy) as much as possible. But as shortcuts get discovered, savvy shoppers can find ways to cut through the path. Nonetheless, IKEA has a clever way to avoid letting too many shoppers in on their secret paths. They simply change the shortcuts.
“They used to change them fairly frequently because we had a lot of repeat business, so customers would get familiar with the shortcuts and know how to zip through,” former employee Paul Robertson told Mental Floss. “After a while they would change the shortcuts to force people to go around the long way again.” Crafty!
5. Customers Are Actually Allowed To Nap
Whenever anyone is feeling a little sleepy while taking a shopping trip to IKEA, the idea of taking a quick nap in one of the sample beds can seem pretty tempting. And luckily for them, shoppers are actually totally allowed to sleep in the beds. Everyone just assumes it’s a no-no.
IKEA stores say that all of the products are out on display so they can be sat on, touched, felt, and, yes, slept on, in hopes that they will sell more beds. But while a quick nap is definitely alright, employees will wake customers up if they have been there for two or three hours.
6. Think Before You Sleep On IKEA Beds
Sure, once a customer knows that it is alright to sleep on the beds and couches at IKEA, it seems pretty enticing. But sleeping on these beds isn’t for the faint of heart. Why? Because these beds definitely are not the cleanest.
The pillows that are placed on beds around the showroom are only changed about once a month, an IKEA employee told Mental Floss. And the pillowcases? Those, along with the sheets, duvey covers, and blankets, are only changed when they look visibly dirty. So while the IKEA beds might look comfortable, knowing that bit of information is far from comforting.
7. There’s Something Called An “Open The Wallet” Section
We know the drill. Sometimes, we come to IKEA to get a table or chair that we desperately need, and we end up leaving with piles of napkins, kitchen items, flower pots, and tea lights that we definitely did not need. And for all of those impulse buys, we have the “Open the Wallet” section to thank.
That area, which seems to contain within its bounds nearly all of the small items we never knew we needed, can be found in every store, and all of them go by the same name. And it’s no wonder that it is called the “Open the Wallet” section. How could we pass up a 99-cent lint roller for that pet that we definitely don’t have?
8. The Books On Display Belong To The Employees
IKEA display rooms are designed to make them look lived in, so that shoppers can imagine themselves living in these rooms as well. But empty bookcases not only look lonely, they look cold and uninviting. So, naturally, IKEA stocks its display bookshelves with tons of books. But we’re going to bet that most shoppers would never guess where these books come from.
The books that fill IKEA shelves actually come from the bookshelves of the employees and managers themselves. That’s right, they bring their own collections to the store. Pretty much any book goes, but within reason. Usually, employees are told a color theme and bring in books accordingly.
9. How IKEA Chooses Product Names
A list of IKEA furniture basically just looks like a list of unpronounceable Nordic gibberish, and there have been rumors that the names mean nothing at all. But those are just rumors. There is actually a very straightforward method to how IKEA choose the name for each product.
Shelves are named in Swedish after jobs (Expedit means shop keeper, for example) while bookcases are given boys’ names (like the Billy bookshelf). Rugs, such as Kattrup, are named after Danish and Swedish towns. Outdoor furniture is named after small Scandinavian islands, bed sheets and pillowcases are named after flowers and plants, and fabrics and curtains are given female names.
10. There’s A Reason Why Their Bins Are So Full
Within IKEA’s signature iconic winding pathway, customers also find another store classic every few steps. We’re talking about those overflowing bins, filled sometimes with things like slippers, pillows, stuffed animals, bins, or any other smaller item, all of which have a large banner stating some insanely low price point hanging above them.
These bins are always overflowing and constantly being refilled, and there is a good reason why. It’s called the “bulla bulla” method, and it means that items are purposefully filled in the bins so that shoppers get the illusion of “volume and, therefore, inexpensiveness”, according to an article in The New Yorker.
11. Employees Have Seen Quite A Few Couple’s Disputes
We love IKEA, but we admit that it can sometimes be stressful, especially for a couple. So many important decisions and so many options! And IKEA employees admit that they have definitely seen their fair share of lovers’ quarrels in the aisles of their store.
“I had a couple trying to make a decision on a rug and he was mad and she was on the verge of tears. Then we were out of the rug they wanted, which made it even worse,” an IKEA employee told Mental Floss. IKEA is even so stressful that The Wall Street Journal reported one couples therapist has made IKEA checklists for her clients, and makes couples build an IKEA desk as a communication exercise.
12. Love IKEA? Imagine IKEA After Hours
What could possibly be more fun than spending an entire day at an IKEA store? Spending the night at an IKEA store, of course. Apparently, the fun only starts once the customers all leave for the day. Then, employees basically have a warehouse to themselves, with hundreds of square feet for activities.
Some IKEA employees have said that after hours, they sometimes will hold races on the pallet jacks that are used in the warehouse portion of IKEA, just before the checkout counter. Others say that this maze of a store is nothing short of the perfect place to play hide and seek.
13. The Perfect Time To Come To IKEA To Beat The Madness
Some IKEA shoppers can be pushy and intense, while others seem to be a little too spaced out as they wander aimlessly through the aisles. The key is to find the sweet spot, where one can get their shopping done without frustration. And IKEA employees say that there is a perfect time of day to come to their stores for the best experience.
Employees first say that their first word of advice would be to avoid IKEA on weekends at all costs. Instead, opt to go on a weekday. And while some might assume that going right when the store opens will beat the crowds, employees say that going about an hour or two after the store opens is the best time. That way, one can avoid the intensely determined early bird shoppers that will have already come through at opening hour.
14. Go To The “As Is” Section On Monday
The most committed IKEA shoppers know about the “As Is” section. But for anyone who did not, this section is filled with the items that are slightly damaged, have dented packaging, or were returned to the store, and they are all sold at remarkably low prices. And there’s a way to make these great deals even better.
If planning a trip to IKEA, make sure to hit up the “As Is” section on a Monday. And there’s a good reason that this section is best on Mondays. People usually do most of their returns on weekends. So by Monday, the “As Is” section has the best offerings. Grab them before they go!
15. Employees Are Told Not To Approach Customers
Ever been to a store and had an overeager store employee approach to ask to help locate items in the store? Yeah, that won’t happen in an IKEA. The concept of store employees approaching customers is a very American custom, and this Swedish company instructs their employees not to do it.
“You were supposed to only help customers if they asked you for it,” one former employee told Mental Floss. “We were told that’s a very Scandinavian way of how stores work.” Instead, IKEA employees are told to keep to themselves, unless they are approached or unless they see a customer clearly struggling to lift something, specifically at the warehouse portion of the store.
16. Employees Hate When Customers Open Things
There’s something about touching, feeling, and laying on IKEA items that makes the shopping experience even that much more fun. And when looking through the store, it can be tempting to touch basically everything. But there’s one thing that IKEA staffers really wish shoppers would just totally stop doing.
Former IKEA employees have said that their big pet peeve is when customers decide to open the boxes and look at the items inside. Sure, it is nice to make sure everything is there, but that step is also done by the checkout counter. When customers open things on the display floor, the item can no longer be sold. Instead, they are collected, scanned, and taken off the floor.
17. The Codes Aren’t Random At All
Doing some serious IKEA shopping requires one of those tiny golf pencils that are essential for writing down the codes for each piece of furniture that can be found in the warehouse section. But while these codes might seem like a random jumbling of letters and numbers, there actually is a rhyme and reason behind why any certain item might have its specific code.
The numbers and letters in each code can tell a customer a lot about the item. For example, the last two numbers indicate which color the item is. If the last two numbers begin with the number 4, it means the item is blue. Something like 41 might mean light blue while 42 would be dark blue.
18. IKEA’s Most Popular Items
The simple IKEA Lack table, which is its least expensive and most simple coffee table, is so popular that it got its own feature profile in The Washington Post. But what are some of the other items at the store that shoppers can’t get enough of?
The most popular piece of furniture is the Billy bookcase, the tall, plain, rectangular bookshelf that comes in a handful of colors and sizes. Beyond that, the most popular items include the wooden and padded Poäng chair, the simple Malm bed, the cubelike Kallax bookshelf, the Rens sheepskin rug, and the Ektorp sofa, which comes with a shirt that reaches the floor.
19. Some People Buy Entire Rooms
We have to give credit where credit is due. The people who design the display rooms at IKEA are great at what they do, and not only do they create beautiful rooms, but they make it so that we feel like we want to just buy the entire room and put it in our homes.
And whether shoppers are just simply indecisive or they have just fallen deeply in love with a room design, IKEA employees say that there have been occasions where shoppers have just bought an entire room. Yes, everything in it, from rugs to lights to furniture. We guess that’s one way to have a “one stop shop”.
20. All The Walls Can Move
As anyone can imagine, IKEA has to change their rooms up pretty frequently so that the store looks fresh and so that shoppers can easily spot some of their newer items that are in stock. And all of those changes mean that practically every wall in the store can be moved.
We would not recommend for shoppers to try moving the walls themselves. The wheels are hidden and locked during a store’s opening hours. But after the store is closed, every single wall is moved so that cleaning crews can have a straight shot to clean every room more quickly and easily.
21. Employees Speak In Code
Sometimes when shoppers are shuffling through IKEA they might hear a voice come over the loud speaker speaking in “codes”. And like many other stores, that’s how employees secretly communicate with each other. But the secret’s out, and former IKEA employees have shared what some of the codes actually mean.
An IKEA employee from Texas told Mental Floss that Code 22 means that the cash registers are experiencing long lines and need help from register-trained employees. Code 99 means that a child has gotten lost in the store. “There are so many wardrobes to hide in or bed skirts to hide under,” she noted.
22. Employees See Some Pretty Awesome Perks
Running around finding customers that one lamp they saw somewhere in the store pays off. Being an IKEA employee comes with, reportedly, a ton of awesome perks. Besides getting an employee discount on IKEA furniture (of course), the gifts they hand out at the end of each year are pretty impressive.
The end-of-year gift tradition offers employees enviable gifts. An employee named Rob told Mental Floss that he was gifted a bike for his first year working at IKEA. The next year, he received a Roku. And a few lucky winners are said to have received airplane tickets to a destination of their choosing.
23. Employees Track Pinterest Trends
Pinterest has become a haven for DIY interior designers all around the world. And for many of those DIY interior designers, their first stop to make their pins a reality is IKEA. So it is no wonder that IKEA employees know to keep up with Pinterest.
One employee recalled to Mental Floss that a viral post used an IKEA spice rack and turned it into a shelving unit for a children’s room. The store quickly sold out (for the record, it was the BEKVÄM spice rack). Some managers now keep tabs on viral home furnishing posts so they know which items to have readily in stock.
24. IKEA Asks Its Own Employees To Model For Their Catalogs
IKEA is “obsessed with lista, which translate as ‘making do'”, according to The New Yorker. And this makes IKEA a very different company. They make do with what they have through practices like using their own employees at models in their catalogs. But even their CEO is in on this lifestyle.
Even though the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, was once ranked one of the richest people in the entire world by Forbes (his highest rank ever was fifth place), he leads a decidedly humble lifestyle. Kamprad “drives a beat-up Volvo…is reported to recycle tea bags…[and] is known to pocket the salt and pepper packets at restaurants”, The New Yorker reported.
25. The Spare Parts Section
There’s nothing as frustrating as getting home, unpacking an IKEA purchase, and realizing that it is missing one small but important piece. But unfortunately, it happens. And for those desperate times of need, the IKEA store has a little-known spare parts section.
The section is exactly what it sounds like. It has all of those little screws, nuts, bolts, and small pieces that might be missing from someone’s IKEA package. And in case anyone is too frustrated to go to the store, in many locations someone can just call their local IKEA store and they will deliver even the smallest part right to their front door.
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