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The Stockholm Syndrome of shopping

09/16/14

Permalink 12:14:16 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 1077 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A], News

The Stockholm Syndrome of shopping

Gail Wallens: Author of "Hostage Terrorist, Terrorist Hostage: A Study in Duality." Dr. Hasseldorf, what can we expect in the next few hours?
Dr. Hasseldorf: Well, Gail, by this time the hostages should be going through the early stages of the Helsinki Syndrome.
Harvey Johnson: As in Helsinki, Sweden.
Dr. Hasseldorf: Finland.
- Die Hard

To quote John McLane, "It's the Stockholm Syndrome, asshole!" in which kidnap victims sympathize with their captors.

Which brings me to the latest form of torture imported from Sweden, the IKEA chain of department stores. (Well. maybe not latest, IKEA has been in business since 1943 and has had stores in the U.S. since 1985.) The huge layout and the way they are arranged with a serpentine single path to go through both floors, bring new meaning to "combat fatigue" as the average customer dragging themselves through the store hasn't been on a shopping trip. Traveling through an IKEA is more reminiscent of the Bataan Death March.

IKEA has learned one of the most important rules in merchandising: the longer you can keep the customer in the store, the more things you can sell them and the more money you can extract from them.

There is a scene from one of the Popeye's cartoons that you could practically place in an IKEA store given its "big box" format and non-grid layout (there are almost no cross aisles, it's essentially a single meandering path on each of its floors), where this old man is trying to get out of a large store. He finds Popeye, and asks him, "Young man, can you direct me to the nearest exit? I've been trying to find it for 17 years."

Taking a page out of the military, the first thing you encounter at IKEA is the mess hall cafeteria, with quite reasonable prices on a good selection of MREs tasty items, allowing you to load up on provisions food before traversing the jungles overgrown shop floor overflowing with merchandise, as you slog through the badlands, machete yellow IKEA store bag in hand, so that you can forage for supplies. (They also have regular shopping wagons, and for people picking up assemble-it-yourself furniture, flatbed carts.)

Many of IKEAs products are excellent value. I bought a standard 8" circular white color wall clock at Family Dollar, which I thought was a pretty good deal when I bought it for $6 or $7 a couple of years ago. Almost identical (outer frame is translucent instead of opaque) wall clock I bought last week, same size with sweep second hand at IKEA: $1.99. I have two of them in my room plus my original clock, so that no matter where I'm facing there's a clock in front of me. Set of 10 IKEA yellow AA alkaline batteries were an additional $1.99, comparable to about $6 for Energizer or Duracell at Target or just about any store.

They also have fairly tasty chocolate bars for 99c, comparable in quality and flavor to the ones that are about $1.99 at Trader Joes. I've also found other things of excellent value I've bought there: wooden picture frames in different colors, multi-outlet power cords, 6-way power adapters (turns a standard 2-socket grounded wall outlet into a 6 outlet one.) And while I haven't needed to but one lately, they have lots of lamps, I've even seen full size floor lamps at IKEA for under $20.

There is one thing I wish I could pick up at IKEA. They had a computer desk for the unbelievable price of $17. It was so unbelievable that I gather that they could not keep it in stock, it was always sold out when I went over there, and now I guess IKEA either can't get it any more or they're not making any money on it, because it's no longer available from their website either. The next best price one is a glass top computer table for about $40. (At the low price I'd have bought one even though I already have a table; I could use it either on the other side of the room or I'd buy two to replace a larger table with a couple of smaller ones.)

Not everything at IKEA is inexpensive, they also carry other furniture like couches and other items where they have more features and are commensurately more expensive. But they do seem to provide reasonably good things at very competitive to better prices than many of their competitors.

When you get to the register, you have to turn in the yellow plastic bag, and (I presume) you can get regular bags or (what I do) you can buy a reusable bag. Now these are not like those $1 "reusable" cloth bags most retailers (Dollar General, Home Depot, Target, and grocery stores) push on you, or a nice plastic one you can get at Trader Joes. First, IKEA's reusable bag is 59c, second, calling it a shopping bag the same way you'd refer to other place's "reusable" bags or even ordinary thin plastic "shopping bags" is an understatement. It's like when Mick "Crocodile" Dundee (in the movie of the same name) is accosted by a punk with a switch blade who says if he doesn't give him his money he'll stab him with his knife. Mick looks at him thoughtfully, then says, "That's not a knife," then whips out a giant Bowie knife about as large as a scimitar, and says, "now that's a knife."

An IKEA reusable shopping bag, first is made of strong plastic reminiscent of a tarpaulin (similar to Trader Joe's reusable bags), and second, it's large enough to carry home a microwave oven. I am not kidding.

Going through an IKEA from Second Floor Cafeteria all the way to the elevator or escallator, then down and through the first floor to the miles of shelves of assemble-it-yourself furniture, to the cash registers and finally to your car (or the bus if you didn't drive), can be an overwhelming experience. But, like dying, it's probably one of those things everyone should try at least once.

Yeah, IKEA gives you a really painful and long dragged out experience, then causes you to like them for it. Just like the Stockholm Syndrome does to captives, IKEA does the same thing to shoppers. Maybe it's because IKEA is also a Swedish import.

Oh, which reminds me, I think I'll try visiting an IKEA again soon. I still haven't had the opportunity to try the Swedish meatballs at the cafeteria yet. But the baby back ribs are outstanding.

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