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For many people, navigating the New York City subway system blindfolded might be easier than getting out of IKEA once they’ve ventured past the first display. Turns out that maze-like interior may be intentional.

Customers unable to find the exit, the theory goes, are likely to stay longer and purchase more. Shoppers hunting for a sofa may see the perfect side tables or remember they need a lamp. Even more dangerous for the impulse shopper is the IKEA marketplace. Shoppers have no choice other than to wend their way through marketplace aisles in their search for the door, and many people drop smaller items like tableware or picture frames into their cart. After all, the price is right, the opportunity is there, and threading back to the item later may prove impossible.

In response to these claims, made by a London professor and posted on YouTube, IKEA says that their store layout is intended to inspire ideas for every area of the home. There are shortcuts, IKEA claims, and these shortcuts must exist for safety reasons. Furthermore, while some customers complain about the store layout, others find it helpful. It is not substantially different from other furniture stores, which display rooms filled with furniture to help customers envision decorating possibilities. The largest difference may be in directing traffic through the marketplace, where impulse purchases abound. But arguably, this technique has its advantages as well: Consumers may pick up items they need but wouldn’t have thought to add to their list for furniture shopping. For IKEA, the advantage is clear in increased sales.

Discussion Questions:   

1. Describe IKEA’s layout.

2. What are its advantages and disadvantages from the consumers’ and IKEA’s point of view?

Elizabeth Tyler, “How IKEA Seduces Its Customers: By Trapping Them,” Time Magazine, January 28, 2011

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