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Get Firefox! Making Shopping Difficult

20 Aug 2004 by Scott Upton

If you’re in the market for furniture and you don’t have a ton of spare cash, IKEA is probably on your radar. For those who happen to live near an actual IKEA store, you’re in luck. For the rest of us in the hinterlands of America, you’re only option is to shop via catalog or on-line. And in this age of internet shopping, I figured I’d give IKEA’s “newly redesigned” store a shot. I was less than impressed:

No Search Box: allows you to search for items online, but you have to click a text link in the upper right of each page to load a separate Search page. 99% of other retailers have long since realized the utility of having search on demand — IKEA doesn’t seem to get it.

Haphazard Integration with Inventory Systems: When you do find a product you’d like to order and add it to your cart, there’s a chance it might not be available. And while some items are marked “only available in stores in bold red lettering,” items that you could order on-line but which are out of stock have nothing to indicate this issue — nothing prevents you from adding it to your cart and checking out.

7-day E-mail Notification: When you order, say, a camera from a site like or, you can rightly expect a summary e-mail to hit your inbox within 24 hours. Not so with IKEA — you can wait up to 7 days for a shipping confirmation. And when you do get that confirmation, the only way to complete your order is to call IKEA directly and finalize certain details. It’s often only at this stage that you are told half of the items in your shopping cart are not available.

Don’t get me wrong — I think IKEA is a great company when it comes to balancing price with environmental responsibility — but their online customer experience seems stuck in 1995.

34 comments so far (Post a Comment)

20 Aug 2004 | Darrel said...

I can't even get their search to work in FireFox.

I don't think IKEA should even offer online ordering. They don't excel in it, and they clearly keep costs low by focusing on in-store shopping.

On the plus side, when I did email them once regarding a problem on their site, I got an immediate response from a real person. That was nice. And much better than my recent experience.

20 Aug 2004 | lisa said...

scott, i agree --

i ordered a few things a while back that were supposedly available online. i called, over a week later (i had not recieved my notification after 7 days), to see when the products might be delivered...and then i was informed that nearly 90% of my order was unavailable online.

i ended up canceling the order all together and purchasing the products locally. my purchase was a little more expensive but with better customer service. i am glad i did it.

20 Aug 2004 | Christophe said...

Speaking as a retailer, the one thing I will add in Ikea's defense is that being "in stock" is a somewhat nebulous concept for a retailer with any kind of complex supply chain. What if it is not in a store, but is on a truck heading to the store, and will be there in 15 minutes? (But then what if that truck hits a traffic jam and misses the UPS pickup window...)

That being said, if they can't ship within 24 hours, an email saying so is definitely in order.

20 Aug 2004 | Nick Finck said...

Aside from Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea's founder, now being the world's richest man I am an Ikea shopper... but things weren't always so easy. After 28 years of living in Portland I relocated to Seattle where there is an Ikea (though I didn't relocate for the store), I now learn there will be an Ikea in Portland shortly.... about time.

That aside, I think it would be interesting to check out the usability factors in their custom-fabbed stores. For example, why is it that I can't just take my merchendice all the way to my car? Instead I have to leave it near the loading area and hopfully have someone with me to watch it as I go get my truck to load it up.

Also, say I goto the store to buy a specific product I know they have. I have to wind though their clover-leaf-like walkways until I come to the section that carries that product. If I am lucky I might find a few shortcuts along the way, but doubtful.

And don't even get me started about their system where the customer has to jot down some warehouse location of the product and physcially load these heavy products onto the carts themselves.

20 Aug 2004 | Bob said...

No search box? Forcing a separate search page? The horrors! Wait, I think I posted on my Basecamp site about that...Let me just search for it... ;-)

20 Aug 2004 | kingbenny said...

Well I haven't tried much of, but I'm not really a fan of the acual shopping experience in the real store... they completely monopolize your shopping style; you really can't just walk in and find any particular object without seeing their entire inventory... excellent marketing I suppose, but I hate it.

20 Aug 2004 | jeff said...

I'm surprised nobody has even mentioned that they never tell you how much shipping will cost.

They only give you two "ballpark" figures... one for ground shipping, one for freight, which could be in the hundreds of dollars!

So, you place your order and nobody tells you how much shipping is until they call you back or you inquire?


20 Aug 2004 | greg said...

perfect timing - justing trying to figure how we can even get an order in for pick-up. located in northern bc, delivery can be cost prohibitive from here.

i've found their site to be infuriating - very little, if anything is cross referenced. looking for a desk you saw in the store last week? if it's not under desks, it might be under computer accessories. saw a neat bistro high round table - sorry to hear that, it's not even on our site.

if there was an alternative for cost/quality and more convenient to shop from, it'd been a done deal.

20 Aug 2004 | hartmurmur said...

I hate the IKEA experience. I hate it even before I enter the store (Chicago/Woodfield) because the parking lot is so huge and the only spots available are over in Indiana.

I will never go on a weekend day because of the crowd. If you've ever been there on a weekend, you can feel the floor move from all the weight. Freaks me out.

The meatballs and Swedish fish are good though. :)

20 Aug 2004 | geeky said...

I hate to say this, but I'm kinda glad their online store sucks so bad - if it didn't I would probably own at least one of everything by now! (kidding... mostly)

I do find it extremely annoying to find something I want online, only to be told I can't order it online. But at least they got rid of the really really annoying dropdown box navigation.

20 Aug 2004 | Brad Hurley said...

To me, these site problems echo the general IKEA experience. I really don't understand why people like buying stuff from them. I set foot in an IKEA store once (after driving around the parking lot for 15 minutes trying to find an empty space), and vowed never to shop there again. The store was a disorienting maze. The furniture we bought was cheaply made and the assembly instructions were a joke, just a few drawings. Some parts didn't fit together well and had to be forced. Ick. Basically I feel like IKEA's message to the customer is "thanks for your money, now you're on your own. Goodbye."

20 Aug 2004 | sloan said...

IKEA has its issues, no doubt. The online store is just silly. Why should I have to click on an item to find out that it is in-store only? The store shopping experience is fine by me, I can always skip a floor or cut directly to what I am looking for. This should be easier though and I feel as though the secret paths I take should be much easier to find. But I like walking through and seeing their new room set ups and the latest patterns they've produced. If you've bought enough big stuff that you need to bring your car around front you can always check your cart at the furniture pick up, park your car, and come back in and get your stuff (at least in Cali). Again, they should let people know about this service.

20 Aug 2004 | engelgrafik said...

Ikea is great product for the money. I'm sorry, but you cannot get nice simple design in a bookcase for $30 anywhere else. You just can't. Neither can you design your own living space with modular systems that look great for the moderate cost anywhere else than IKEA.

That said, IKEA is a shining opportunity for anybody that has the guts to propose a massive experience overhaul that connects their online and onsite worlds into one super amazing experience.

20 Aug 2004 | Jeff Croft said...

Believe it or not, the current IKEA website is a huge improvement over what the had just a year ago. The used to not let you place any kind of order online. You had to print and order form and either mail it in or call it in. It still sucks bigtime, though.


20 Aug 2004 | TG said...

I worked on some of their sites some years ago, before any online ordering. It was of course the main request from customers (besides "I want a [print] catalog".

I recall it primarily being an issue of a complex supply chain, with various warehouses distributed over the world, strange routing, and so-on. I think the online ordering they do offer now is more a concession than a full-on attempt at being an online property.

They are most definitely a brick/mortar company. There were hesitant to even have phone ordering or push it, as their main goal was to get people in the store. That is why they have meandering paths through the departments as well. It's not that they couldn't figure out how to organize things. Quite the opposite. A very different orientation than most US-based/origin retailers, in literal and abstract ways. They are most definitely not Walmart.

20 Aug 2004 | Jeff Croft said...

As for the IKEA product itself, you really have to understand what you're getting. At the top end, a number of the IKEA pieces are very nice and high-quality. However, the vast majority of their stuff sells for a very inexpensive price and is not exactly the pinnacle of "well-made."

That having been said, the price reflects it. At IKEA you can get stylish designs for very affordable prices. Being as their items tend to be trendy, you're probably not going to want them after five years, anyway. Plus -- their target audience on the lower-end stuff is college students and other persons who value design but don't have the budget for Design Within Reach. The idea is simple: disposable furniture. You're young and cheap but hip and cool. You get stylish stuff that fits the current rends. After you've got a good job and moved up in the world, you probably graduate to higher-end stores. Your IKEA stuff only needed to last you five years, and it did the job very well.

You can complain about the quality, but you usually can't argue with the value of their products.

20 Aug 2004 | Katieweb said...

Nick and Heartmurmur have it right: it is terribly frustrating to shop at physical IKEAs, and the system for finding and locating items is difficult at best.

I actually blogged about this after a new IKEA opened near me in New Haven, CT about a month ago:

On the showroom floor there only seems to be a single entrance and exit, so you're trapped into going through all the showrooms once you get started. Showroom items usually do not have attached tags showing their location in the warehouse. You have to find a desired item from a showroom *again* among a loose grouping of similar items in order to write down where it is in the warehouse. Some products are put together from different parts, too, making it even hard to buy something.

The furniture sure is cheap, though.

20 Aug 2004 | SU said...

Plus -- their target audience on the lower-end stuff is college students and other persons who value design but don't have the budget for Design Within Reach.

Does anyone else out there find "Design Within Reach" far beyond their own financial reach? I understand furniture made of real wood (not particle board or MDF) costs more and that smaller furniture makers can't approach the economy of scale that IKEA has, but how much better is this laminated table from DWR ($799 on sale) compared to this similar one from IKEA ($129)?

20 Aug 2004 | Darrel said...

Does anyone else out there find "Design Within Reach"

A more ironic name could not have been picked for DWR. ;o)

I'm still looking for that mythical gap between DWR and IKEA. Everything in between those two is your local big-box poofy-ugly-couch store. Blech. (Though Room and Board comes close...)

As for DWR's pricing, while there is certainly an heriloom furniture quality to their pieces, a lot of it is simply priced high because it is 'designer'. DWR is for status, IKEA is for consumers that just want a nice looking piece of furniture that they can afford. I do see Ikea producing a bit more higher-end stuff these days. I hope they continue that trend.

In the meantime, I've been eying the white-on-white Eames knockoffs for a while now...

20 Aug 2004 | matthew said...

i always thought the layout of ikea was by design. like putting the milk in the back of the grocery store - they want you to walk through the whole store to get to those little tealights because maybe you'll buy a desk on the way.

also, this error message isn't very helpful.

20 Aug 2004 | Patrick H. Lauke said...

what surprised me even more a few years ago (and it's still true to this day): the UK version of IKEA doesn't have any online shopping at all. hurrah, we have a website! check out items! ah, yes, you still need to shift your physical derriere over to our store, though...

20 Aug 2004 | pb said...

I'm still looking for that mythical gap between DWR and IKEA.


Room & Board is pretty close. And of course the new entrants which I suspect have a bright future: West Elm and CB2.

Even Costco and Target are getting into the game:
Costco Contemporary Living Room Set
Costoc Barcelona Daybed
Target Studio Design

I think there's a huge opportunity here that Ikea is only whetting the appetite for.

20 Aug 2004 | pb said...

I think Ikea probably views its online store as a big hassle to provide. They didn't offer catalog or online purchasing for the longest time and I'm actually surprised they finally started to offer it. I doubt they get much of a return from it.

21 Aug 2004 | Jamie said...

Scott and everyone else, try checking out CB2.
They have comparable stuff to IKEA--a little pricer, but cheaper than DWR.

23 Aug 2004 | Shane said...

Certain things don't port to the web very well. Been to McDonalds' website lately. I can't even get a BigMac delivered!Furniture shopping may be one of those experiences that is not very good on the web.

Although, if a company as large as Ikea is going to attempt to sell items online, it had better be a good site. On par with Amazon (which definitely sets the standard). A comment from above stated inventory and shipping issues and how difficult it is to properly display inventory on the web... Rubbish! It may be difficult, but it can be done, and it can be done very well. Saying that you can't display inventory status because it is too difficult means you aren't ready to sell online.

23 Aug 2004 | Garrick Van Buren said...

Add my vote to - IKEA shouldn't do ecommerce. Their in-store experience is excellent, best in the world. That's where they excel. In-store. You can order a delivery from their stores, but only within a specific radius of their stores - not to Nebraska. This means IKEA doesn't have the logistical infrastructure to support online sales. Therefore, I suspect they're making online difficult because - like - ecommerce doesn't fit their brand or their product line.

23 Aug 2004 | Jeffrey said...

I had a very similiar experience.

Additionally, items like pick-and-choose desktops come in about 10 different colors. On the site, when you check the invetory of a store it simply says whether the desktop is in stock or not. There's no way besides calling to find *which one* is in stock.

Very irritating. Luckily I can drive to the Schaumburg, IL one in about 35 mins.

23 Aug 2004 | tlack said...

This is a timely topic for me. I'm currently attempting to decorate my "loft" and I'm suffering from the absence of a South Florida Ikea store.

I'm amazed that so many people on this site (of all places!) are cutting Ikea slack on this important issue. If I remember correctly, don't they spend pages of their catalog gloating about their superior flat-pack shipping method? If so, I would say they're pretty committed to the out-of-store sales channel. Why they don't carry this commitment over to the site makes no sense.

There's so much wrong with their ecommerce site. Weird product groupings (some items on their site are individual products, some are groups of products, some are single SKUs when they come in multiple varieties such as the desk mentioned above), 7 day order fulfillment, bizarre category system, lack of cross referencing, occasional black and white illustrations instead of product photos. Even if you can't get a single "is in stock or isn't" column in the database, they could at least let you know within 24 hours. It isn't that hard.

Ikea is clearly a forward thinking company -- their furniture is great looking and more affordable than anything I've ever come across. They should apply a due amount of effort on their site.

23 Aug 2004 | pb said...

If I remember correctly, don't they spend pages of their catalog gloating about their superior flat-pack shipping method?

No, they don't. They hate shipping. They didn't even offer it until recently. They want you to come into the store and transport your stuff yourself. Flat packing reduces Ikea's shipping costs and makes it easier for customers to lug their stuff home in their Civics.

I think it's perfectly reasonable for retailers to choose not to sell online.

23 Aug 2004 | Darrel said...

Furniture shopping may be one of those experiences that is not very good on the web.

I agree. We recently went to one of those 'wholesaler' clubs where you look through furniture catalogs and then order wholesale. The problem is that I know what my eyes like, but my ass doesn't get a say until it's delivered.

Room and Board have been trying all sorts of things online, and doing the best they can, but furniture shopping is simply one of those tactile experiences that just doesn't fit the web perfectly.

As for giving IKEA slack, I think they either need to do it right, or not at all. And doing it right would take a chunk of money that may affect their one key selling point...they're cheap. Their one flaw right now is that they're doing it half-assed.

(Slight change of topic...I'd love to see stand-alone IKEA cafe's. But that's a whole other debate...)

24 Aug 2004 | Jamie said...

Darrel, while furniture shopping online may not equal the brick and mortar experience some people may use the web to transact after they have looked at the piece in the store. I work at Crate and Barrel and what we've found (anecdotally speaking) is customers often look at a big ticket item--like a sofa--multiple times before making a decision. Since this is the case, it is feasible for a customer to use the web to make their final purchase. If our numbers are any indication, lots and lots of people buy furniture online. You'd be surprised...I was.

18 Sep 2004 | Jackie said...

I have not had a good experience with ikea and am frustrated! I ordered wardrobes in May 2004, were finally told (after calling many many times and waiting long periods) in June that all was in and being delivered. I was charged and paid the purchase in full in July 2004. On August 8 the wardrobe units arrived minus two items and with a damaged wardrobe. I called and was told that they would send me the missing items and replacing the damaged wardrobe within 10 days!!! Here we are in the later part of September and still nothing. I have tried contacting the Home Shopping Manager but she doesn't reply. I have been told that someone would contact me by phone twice now (via email) however that hasn't materialized either. What kind of service is that....I'm frustrated beyond words!

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