Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Return To IKEA

Not much has changed at IKEA in over 20 years other than the switch from metric to English sizes.

We went back to IKEA - myself kicking and screaming the whole way.  Since the plumbing exploded in the laundry room, we decided to re-do the entire thing - from floor to ceiling - and start over with a new laundry room.   Yea, I know, the "look at me!" laundry room.  I hate it.  Then again, rust-stained concrete floors, ceilings with peeling paint, leaking plumbing, black mold, and mildew are not "quaint" at all.  It had to be done.  A house is a machine for living - one that has to be maintained and repaired regularly.

We wanted some cabinets in the laundry room to store things.   Storage is a trap, of course.  People put up shelves and cabinets in their garage or basement and they quickly fill up with crap.   Any level surface in your house becomes a junk accumulator in short order.   It is tricky business and you have to police your own space continually.   Just because you have storage space for stuff, doesn't mean you have to chink it full with junk.

And yet we all do.  The number one complaint about many homes for sale is lack of closets and storage space.  Women want a $20,000 "walk-in" closet to hold a few dozen pairs of $50 shoes and some clothes they haven't worn in years.   Dad wants the diamond-tread cabinets in his garage to store broken car parts.  Again, we all do it, and it is a hard habit to break.

So even putting in storage cabinets makes me anxious - they will fill up with crap that is never used, and eventually we will add more storage cabinets, "because we're running out of space!" much as people put screen porches on their former screen porches which were converted to sun rooms, and eventually, living rooms.  This shit never ends.

Anyway, we had a lame-ass cabinet from Lowe's in the garage, and it was OK, I guess.  It held pots and pans that Mark rarely (perhaps never) uses.   We looked at Lowe's to buy more and they were (a) very expensive, (b) limited in sizes, and (c) not in stock.   There was also (d) half the packages in stock were opened, had been returned, and were missing parts.

So, cheap cabinets - where do you go for that?   IKEA is one answer, although I suspect we could have had custom-made cabinets for maybe twice as much money.  So we drive to Florida to look at them.

It's all still there - the racetrack, the 20-somethings buying $20 crap to clutter up their apartments with (IKEA's biggest profit center, I suspect is tchotchke), the Swedish meatballs - the whole lot.  It is annoying as shit.

First of all, it is LOUD AS FUCK in IKEA.   It has all the charm of waiting in line at TSA at the airport - and the stress.  The acoustics are horrible.  They play music a full volume, but since it echoes so much, you cannot make out what song is even playing.   And since it is loud and echo-y, everyone finds themselves shouting over time.   No, seriously, you've never heard people talk SO LOUDLY in your life.  It is not a pleasant shopping experience!

We had gone online and created a "shopping list" of about $800 worth of cabinets.  We brought this to the kitchen department, after getting lost on the "racetrack" a few times.   The nice lady there had to type the whole damn thing in again (Hello IT department?  Anyone home?) and her resultant list was different than ours, as ours listed the cabinets we wanted, while her's listed each component needed for each cabinet.  Making sure we got everything we needed was tricky.   Oh, and two items were out of stock.

Again, Hello IT department, anyone home?  Because IKEA's IT sucks.   If you want to order a countertop you have to go to the store and ask if they have it.   And they don't.   And they don't have many of them in stock, other than the plain kind.   The cabinets we wanted that they didn't have were on backorder, and we couldn't order them to pick up, only for directly delivery to our home.   A $35 delivery charge for $80 worth of cabinets.   That makes sense to me!

The website, by the way is confusing.  Finding the cabinet you want is difficult, and when you do find it, you have to use pull-down menus to select size, color, and style.   Easy, right?   Well, it took me a better part of a half-hour to figure out that the arrow for the pull down menu was ABOVE the part of the page (unmarked, of course) where you need to click.  I only found the correct "sweet spot" by accident, after randomly clicking on the page.  Again, Hello IT department, anyone home?

Oh, and their "3-D Kitchen Designer" simply does not work, and even when it does, according to some sources, it just crashes all the time and loses your data.   How about a 2-D kitchen designer that actually works?   Let people layout the kitchen and then render it in 3-D, which would use a lot less bandwidth and processor time.  Oh, well.

So we finally get our order in for (most of) our cabinets, and countertops that look like they belong in a Dentist's office - that's all they had in stock.   And we then have to get in line for checkout.  IKEA checkout is like Home Depot.  They have "associates" galore in the store, but when you get to the front, there is one huge long line and maybe two checkout clerks.  They have piles of "impulse purchase" crap stacked up by the checkout lanes, and these are piled even higher with $20 crap that someone thought they might purchase, but then thought better of it, when they had to wait in line to check out for 30 minutes.  Lost toys.

Fortunately, once we get to the head of the line, they simply scan the kitchen parts list and the checkout is almost instantaneous.   It is interesting to see what others are buying though.   It seems less and less of furniture and "big" pieces than little tchotchke junky things that people are buying.  Like I said, I wonder if this is their big money-maker - little junky things made in China with high mark-ups.   Hechinger's syndrome strikes again!

Once through that line, we go to another line where they "pull" the order.  I ask the lady how long this will take, and she says, "about a minute per item, I'd expect".   Now with each part of each cabinet being an "item" (including the hinges) I can see this will take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.  So we go off to the cafeteria for the famous Swedish meatballs.

In this store, the cafeteria is nearly impossible to find.  It is at the end of the "racetrack" and I feel like Dorthy finally arriving at the Emerald City.   It is still loud as fuck inside, of course, and it is not clear where you are supposed to go to get food.   Worse yet, they have the menu on big-screen televisions, which change pages every five seconds - far faster than you can read them.   Hello IT department?

Worse yet, there are at least five items on the menu called "Swedish Meatballs" including a side of meatballs by themselves, chicken meatballs, and some other platters with meatballs and vegetables.  I cannot tell one from the other as they are all the same price and have the same name.  So I ask for "Swedish meatballs" and hope I got the one in the fleeting picture that flashed by on the screen above.

By this time, I have a splitting migraine headache.  Like I said, it is like being in an airport in the TSA line.  You can smell the fear and anxiety of the people around you.  Everyone is nervous and on edge, and I assume this is by design.   A legion of marketers and psychologists have designed this place to make you anxious.   Relaxed people, I guess, don't spend as much as anxious ones.  I feel like I am being manipulated, and I don't like being manipulated.  I don't like loud noises, shitty acoustics, people shouting, or myself shouting to be heard.

I guess you could call it "IKEA Shout" much as we have "Smart Phone Holler".   Smart phones don't have any sidetone - that tiny bit of feedback that lets you hear your own voice speaking.  As a result, they feel "dead" and when you talk on them, you get no feedback, so you tend to talk louder.  And that is the technical reason people holler and shout on their phones - to the annoyance of everyone else.

IKEA is the same way - the store is acoustically "dead" like many other big-box stores and chain restaurants these days.   The lack of ceiling and the use of concrete block walls and overhead trusses means that you can't hear your own voice, but instead hear a cacophony of other voices, announcements, and the echo-y music.   You end up raising your voice more and more, as you can't even hear yourself speaking.   It is an unpleasant experience, and one I can only assume is by design - everything about IKEA is by clever design.

And I think this anxiety-inducing environment instills a sense of urgency into people, and a sense of urgency gets people to buy.   "Buy now or be priced out of the market!"  "I have another prospect coming by this afternoon to look at this car!"  "They didn't make many in this color - I'm not sure when we'll get another in - if ever!"   A sense of urgency often pushes people to purchase.   And in the case of IKEA, it is "OK, I'll buy it!  Just let me the fuck out of this godforsaken place already!" which is another strategy car dealers use - by keeping you in the store for hours at a time, until you hand over your checkbook, a whimpering mass of what was once a human, cowering in the corner.

And I'm not joking about this.  It has been demonstrated that when people "invest" a certain amount of time into buying something, they are less likely to walk away, as they feel they would have "wasted" their "investment" of time and energy.   Why do you think they have the racetrack?   The racetrack not only forces you to look at every goddamn thing they sell, it also forces you to waste time wandering around the store.   And the more time you waste there, the more likely you are to buy and the less likely to say "fuck this noise!" and walk out.

The only exception, it seems, are the pile of small items by the checkout, left behind by frustrated shoppers who decided that waiting 30-minutes to check out a small armature figure wasn't worth it.  You see how it works, though - they didn't invest the time, so they felt they could walk away.  If they had spend an hour there looking at junk, putting a half-dozen items in a shopping cart or bag, stopping for lunch on Swedish meatballs, they would feel invested and waiting a half-hour to check out what amounts to apartment clutter, seems worthwhile.

What I found funny about all of this, was when I got home, there was an article on my phone about "How they've fixed the most annoying thing about IKEA!"   I thought, "Gee, they are getting rid of the racetrack?" (there is talk of this, for some stores).   Or maybe, "They put the entire IT department up against a wall and shot them?" (which should be done at any company in periodic Stalinist purges).   Or maybe they fixed the acoustics, or stopped with the cutsey Swedish-sounding names, or fixed he stroboscopic menus in the cafeteria - or came up with more than one entree name for five separate menu items.  

No, no, they hired Taskrabbit to help clueless Millenials put together their particle-board furniture.  Because, you know, putting things together by following very explicit instructions is hard (cue flipping blond hair over head).  Frankly, this is the least "annoying" feature of IKEA, and by the way, everyone uses this knock-down technique of shipping furniture these days.   If you can't figure out how to put together an IKEA bookcase, there is something fundamentally wrong with you.  Unpack the damn thing, lay out the cardboard on the floor as a work surface, carefully count all the pieces to make sure you have them all, and then slowly follow the instructions step-by-step, paying attention to the details they put in the instructions which are put there for a purpose.

Dumping out the contents of the carton and randomly assembling pieces like a jigsaw puzzle - yea, that's "hard", but only because you're making it harder on yourself.

While waiting for our order to be "picked" I noticed a poster - a billboard, actually - with a picture of a Swedish-looking Eurotrash dude on some sort of funky cargo bicycle, carrying a load of flat-pack IKEA crap, topped with some sort of tchotchke fake flower.  He was wearing a ski hat, in the summer.  How cute.  The tag line was, "Thanks, Everyone, for using flat-pack!  Saving the environment and the planet by reducing shipping costs!"

I thought this was ironic, as IKEA is no doubt one of the world's largest consumers of corrugated cardboard, both in their packing materials and in their products (yes, they do make coffee tables out of cardboard - I've bought one myself, long ago!).   And the flat-pack thing isn't something they did to "save the planet" but to save money and make money for themselves, by undercutting the prices of traditional furniture makers.

It is sort of like ExxonMobil congratulating us for driving 12-mpg SUVs.  And I guess that comes right down to what is really the most annoying thing about IKEA - and it isn't the barrel-nuts and little allen-wrench fasteners.   It is this idea that somehow IKEA is more hip, trendy, environmentally conscious, and "better" than other stores and products, when in fact, it is just a store like any other, albeit laid out in a manner that makes people want to scream.

It is funny, we have abandoned department stores in favor of these big-box monstrosities.  You went to a department store, and finding each department wasn't hard to do - there was no "racetrack" that forced you to visit ladies lingerie (LINGERIE - that sounds like an IKEA name for a desk!) before you got to sporting goods.  No, no, they have signs and escalators.

And they also have carpet and acoustical ceiling tile, so each department has its own hushed ambiance.   And when you buy something, the salesperson you are talking to, can "ring you up" in his department - you are not forced to schlep an armload of goods across a football field to find the checkout (after zig-zagging through the "racetrack" yet again).  And if you bought furniture, it was delivered to your door and they carried it inside for you, unpacked it, and assembled it, if necessary.

Oh, and the department store had a restaurant - with a clear menu written on paper, brought to you by a waiter or waitress.   And no Swedish meatballs!

We gave that all up for some reason.   Too expensive, I guess.  Our generation thought we would save money by "doing it ourselves" and buy things in pieces and throw our backs out carrying furniture up three flights of stairs.

And now, one by one, the department stores are dying.   This year will see even more closures of individual stores and bankruptcies of whole chains.   And of course, this isn't about to change.  Nor do I suggest it change.   Fighting change is a loser's game.

As for IKEA, they will continue to do well - they have figured out what makes us tick, and can manipulate us in to doing their work for them.   Pretty soon, when you go to IKEA and check out, they will just give you a pile of sawdust and some glue, a set of pictogram instructions, and you can make your own particleboard furniture at home.   Tools you will need include a 10-ton press and a fresh-air breathing apparatus.

Some assembly required.

I hate fucking IKEA.

UPDATE:  I have started assembling the cabinets.  I got one all together and then figured out she sold me the wrong size!  It is a 15" deep base cabinet, not a 30" one!   So.... back to IKEA!   Oh, shit.  More Swedish meatballs.   Funny, Mark was sick all day today.

UPDATE:  I ordered the two missing cabinet frames and base cabinet frame online.   Funny thing, though, when I ordered just the cabinet, the shipping was $36.  When I added the two missing upper cabinets, shipping went down to $9.   The site says "shipping starting at $29!"   The online ordering system seems to work well.   Finding the correct parts, though (a cabinet FRAME as opposed to the complete cabinet) is hard.   And it makes a difference.  The frame for the upper cabinet was $44.   A complete cabinet is $120.   For some reason, the lady at IKEA sold us the doors and hinges and shelves for the missing upper cabinets, but the frames were out of stock.  Why not just sell us complete cabinets instead?

Again, the dichotomy between the online ordering system (which orders cabinets as a set) and the in-store system (which orders components).