Seven stages of shopping at Ikea, from preparation to remorse

The highs and lows of a visit to the Swedish furniture store

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Seasoned house movers will know that Ikea’s reputation precedes it. More than a flat-packed furniture empire and meatball emporium, a visit to Ikea has the power to make or break a day.

Many of us who have relocated to the UAE have made a beeline for the Swedish furniture store to pick up comforting domestic essentials — is there an apartment in Dubai without a Billy bookcase? My small-pool research suggests not.

Every Ikea shop, successful or not, has seven emotional stages, from preparation to the rush, with a potential bonus of buyer's remorse.

Stage 1: Preparation

A shopping list at Ikea is a loose guideline at best

No one goes to Ikea to meander, so by default we all arrive with a shopping list. There are different organisational levels, of course, from the rough list of ideas jotted down on the back of an envelope, to the hyper-organised, with a divided list and detailed sub-sections that include product codes.

Throw it away. Lists mean nothing in Ikea. You’ll buy what Ikea tells you to buy.

Even if you had a vision of the room you were furnishing before you arrived at the store, it will start to morph now that you’re there.

Stage 2: Anticipation

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 26th, 2019: Sneak peek of the new IKEA store in Festival Plaza with a behind-the-scenes tour, preview of new offers, and business update ahead of the grand opening in December. Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 at Festival Plaza, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Walking in, it's hard not to be seduced by the room displays. The team of visual merchandisers are no fools, setting up colourful, cosy and eye-catching spaces that cater to every taste. Walking around this week, I saw a kitchen, two living rooms and a bathroom set-up I’d happily pick up and place in my house, like-for-like.

Here is where you start to feel excited, the early eager moments. There is opportunity ahead, the chance to create a picture-perfect home, and Ikea is on hand to help.

Stage 3: Friction

The Billy bookcase is among the most popular pieces of furniture at Ikea. Photo: Ikea

Anticipation slowly dissolves and friction takes its place. It’s now that the Ikea fallouts of lore occur.

Perhaps you and your partner, roommate or sibling agreed on a Hemnes unit, spicing it up and not going for a Billy or a Kallax, go you. But by now, you've been there two hours longer than you expected to be, and the cracks are beginning to show.

“But do we want light or dark wood?” “Light”, “Dark” you answer at the same time. The disagreements just snowball from there.

Even solo shoppers aren't immune to the friction.

“I don’t need a Strandmon armchair, the Poang will do just fine for less than half the price,” you'll tell yourself. But deep down you want that Strandmon … cue hours of crushing indecision.

Stage 4: Rebellion

The Ikea track is a well-trod route. Arrows on the floor show you exactly where to go, a journey through domestic set-ups.

No matter how disciplined you are, those arrows will see you pass by thousands of items, seducing you with their practicality. Unless you arrive like a blinkered racehorse, the only way around a big yellow bag full of things you don’t need is an Ikea rebellion.

Check the map, find the dotted lines, work out the shortcuts, fast track the shop.

Stage 5: Frustration

Dubai - December 20, 2009 - An employee walks by racks of merchandise in the warehouse area of the IKEA store in Festival City in Dubai, December 20, 2009. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
For House & Home story "Furnishing for 15K" *** Local Caption ***  JT009-1220-IKEA_MG_5967.jpg

As you emerge from the marketplace and into the self-serve warehouse, there is a thrill. You’re almost there.

You’re armed with a series of product codes and aisles to visit, but this is the last chance to come unstuck.

Only the luckiest of shoppers will find every item they’re looking for the first time. This inevitably leads to frustrated laps, scanning for your desired item, only to find it was aisle 13, bin 4, when you wrote down aisle 4, bin 13.

Swallow your pride, find a shop assistant and ask for help, it’s the only way out even if your instincts are telling you logic will help you crack the shopping code.

Stage 6: The rush

The famous blue Ikea trolleys. Reuters

This is what gets you over the finish line.

Ikea is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like the last mile that long-distance runners will be oh-too familiar with, emerging from the Ikea warehouse is a shopping thrill like few others.

It’s likely that by now, you’re talking to your partner again. Your trolley is stacked high with new desks, beds, tables, consoles and chairs. If you’ve built a kitchen or wardrobe, you’ll be riding that thrill, but the main thing is that you’ve made it, you’re on the other side.


There is no shopping safety in Ikea. Rather than kicking you when you’re down, they capitalise on your high with a bonus marketplace. In the winding queue for the till, anyone who resists picking up surplus sandwich bags, food clips, bags of Daim chocolates, tea towels or scrubbers, are a better shopper than I. Although I did talk myself out of buying a microwave dish cover on my last visit. A gallant display of willpower, I am sure you’ll agree.

Stage 7: Regret and/or remorse

Buyer's remorse is real, but at Ikea it's endemic. There are only so many Dh5 to Dh25 items you can say, “Oh, go on” to before your bill is soaring way above Dh500 … a particularly bitter pill to swallow when you only went in for a pair of Ribba frames.

It’s also very probable that as you stride out of the store, pushing a trolley full of things you didn’t expect to buy, you’ll finish loading up the car, start the engine and pull out of the car park … only to remember that you forgot the one thing you set out to buy.

Go home, unpack and pop some of the meatballs (or plant balls) you inevitably bought in the oven. Then tackle the entire cycle again on your next trip.

Updated: October 01, 2022, 4:53 AM