Lessons learned from a bad experience with Ikea

by Michele on May 31, 2011

Lessons learned from a bad experience at Ikea

Lessons learned from a bad experience at Ikea

I had a blog post planned for today, but yesterday’s experience just was too full of great lessons to ignore.  For those of us in the US, yesterday was a holiday and that means some stores are closed or have shorter holiday hours.

Among other things I had planned yesterday, I decided to brave a trip to Ikea to keep some home improvement projects moving ahead.  Since it’s quite a trek to get there, I wanted to make sure they were open into the evening.  I started with their website and there was no mention of holiday hours.  I then entered into phone menu purgatory which was an endless nested maze of  options, none of which was “at any time press zero for an operator.”  Those phone menu set ups are a horrible way to treat customers.  Does any customer feel valued when that’s what they are greeted with? I think by now most people are used to the phone menu hazing they have to go through to get service, and know that if they do choose to speak to a live person they may have to wait.  I was surprised though, at how difficult they made it and that there was no obvious way to get to a live person.   I finally did get a live person through one of the many combinations of keys I  pressed, and of course he couldn’t answer my question but put me back on hold for 7 minutes until someone picked up.  Needless to say, this was extremely frustrating and a big waste of over 20 minutes of my time.  It made me, an interested customer, way less interested in buying.  In fact, if I didn’t need something I could only get there I wouldn’t have gone at all.  It certainly made get in and out as fast as possible and thus they lost any other sales they might have had with me.  A company like Ikea can get away with this – the one near me is almost always jam packed with a lines of 20 people at each of a dozen registers.  They don’t need to change anything about how they treat their customers, but what about the rest of us?  What lesson is there for a solopreneur business in this?  I came up with 3 things we can take from this experience.

First –

Don’t make it hard to buy, in fact make it as easy as possible.  I suspect Ikea would have lost a lot of people in this situation who were less determined and in need than me.

Second –

Don’t make it hard to contact you.  Give clients and customers options for how they contact you and make it easy to find that information.

Third –

Anticipate and reply to obvious questions.  Think about what big, obvious questions your clients may have and answer them before your clients ask.  Don’t make them work for basic information – most won’t and you’ll lose sales.  If you get the same question more than a few times, put the answer in your materials.

What are some of the ways you help customers to buy?  Share them in the comments.


  1. Laurie Dewan says:

    This is very interesting because in business school, we studied IKEA as an extreme example of a low-touch customer experience: you walk through the store on they route they plan, experience the products without much assistance, and you do need to be determined to get the items you want. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it allows for rapid inventory turnover, lower prices (or at least the perception that as a customer you’re not paying for “frills”), and brand differentiation. A few years ago, a creative filmmaker famously shot an entire Web series, “IKEA Heights”, in the Burbank IKEA without the store staff even noticing. The other end of the spectrum would be the high-touch model of Nordstrom’s, where most solopreneurs would say they want to be.

    Michelle, despite your bad experience at IKEA I would hesitate to say that every small business needs to cater to its customers the Nordstrom way. Beyond basic good-business practices (make contact information easily available, respond to inquiries), is there room for a low-touch, low-frills, quality-product model? I wonder if anyone in this community has experimented with that.

    1. Michele says:

      Laurie, very interesting way to look at this. I think businesses definitely need to choose where on the high touch-low touch spectrum their customers prefer. I think it would be unpleasant to go into Ikea and suddenly have Nordstrom style service, and I’m guessing the reverse would be true too. My problem with this experience is not that Ikea provides low-touch service, but that they failed to provide the absolute first thing I needed to buy – whether they were open. They could have provided this in low-touch ways by simply putting in on their website or phone message and that would have been fine. The way I see small business repeating this error is to make it hard to buy by not providing basic buyer information like price, features, dates, times, formats, etc or by hiding the “buy” button. I think definitely there’s room in our community for people to provide low-touch, low-frills service – I know that I often prefer that. It’s an interesting idea!

Previous post:

Next post: