Capturing Customers at IKEA


You may not all have a local IKEA store so I will start with a little background.  IKEA is a store that sells ‘affordable’ home furniture and household items. Yes, a lot of the furniture requires ‘some’ assembly.  While it may not be as sturdy or durable (especially if you have parts left over when you are done) as furniture that costs several times as much, it fits the immediate needs of many growing families in which the furniture may not be expected or need to last forever as their children grow and their needs change.  However IKEA has been known for innovation.  First it was the flushless toilets.  Now new for 2013 it is the exitless restaurant.

Yes, most IKEA locations have a restaurant.  They serve a variety of items from breakfast to lunch to dinner.  No, it’s not fancy.  However, this is the same company that recently made news over the culinary innovation of introducting horsemeat in meatballs.  (Did you know that horsemeat has a lower fat content than regular beef?) On the other hand, restaurant service is quick because you pick up your food while walking through a cafeteria style line just like the old days of going to school.   That means there is not a lot of variety.  However, for the price, it is better than going to most fast food places.

Up until recently, it was possible to pop in to get a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner and leave without going through the rest of the store which quite frankly is laid out by the same mad scientist who makes mazes to test whether rats can find their cheese two times in a row.  Yes, sometimes, it is just about getting something to eat.  You could go up to the restaurant by escalator or elevator (for those who cannot take the escalator).  Previously, you could also come back down and leave the store by the same elevator (there is no escalator down which is rather inconvenient for those who may not be able to do stairs).

Not any more.  You cannot just get something to eat and leave.  Recently, they have covered over the elevator buttons so you have no way to leave the restaurant until the store opens.  (Oh, did I forgot to mention that the restaurant opens 30 minutes before the rest of the store.)  Even if you came for one of those wonderful plates of meatballs, you now have to walk through the maze of their store in an attempt to find the shortest path out of the building.  I think it is part of a foreign psychology experiment.  Now I know they want to take advantage of their captive audience, attracted to the store not by a block of cheese, but by a quick and inexpensive meal to force them to pass all of the merchandize on their struggle to find a way out of the store in the hope that some of them might say, ‘Hey, look at that!  I’ve always wanted one of those.’

But what if someone had to leave really quick.  Suppose there was a medical emergency and they had to get out the fastest way possible.  IKEA has blocked the exits. They don’t care if someone is possibly sick or maybe even dying.  They only want to make sure that you wind your way through the store aisles looking at all the merchandise.

Stores with restaurants in them are not all that unusual.  Many large department stores have had them.  So have some Five and Dime stores.  Granted, most of these in the past were only open during regular store hours, but I’ve never seen something like this before where if you wanted to go to the restaurant, that you had to walk through the store aisles to get back out again.  In similar cases where restaurants are located in enclosed malls, the restaurant often has an entrance/exit directly to the outside, not just to the interior of the mall.

While I’ve been making fun of these changes, the real issue on this April 1, 2013 is one of safety.  There are days when the restaurant is fairly full before the rest of the store opens.  Should there be an emergency requiring people to get out quickly, how would they get out with only an up escalator to try to go down on and an elevator in which the buttons have been covered?  Can an ambulance crew get that gurney up the escalator? Is this really safe?  Are there no rules to protect customers patronizing a place of business?  Do they not have an expectation that they will be safe?  If it is so important to have two exits to every room in public buildings, can businesses simply ignore this rule?  I feel sorry for those in wheelchairs or walkers who must wait for the store to open before they can leave.  Even mothers with strollers have to wait until the store opens if their child becomes fussy and they need to leave.  Perhaps a store has a right to do whatever they want in their own property, but should they be required to post a sign at the bottom of the escalator stating that there is no exit from the second floor until the store opens allowing people to make an informed choice?

All these questions to ponder for the first day of April and no answers to offer.

C’ya.

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