How Ikea Works

Ikea Stores

It's not a theme park -- just a furniture display. 
It's not a theme park -- just a furniture display. 
Stephen Chernin/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In 2007, 450 million people around the world visited the store's Web sites, and the 2007 Ikea catalog had a print run of 175 million copies in 27 languages [source: Ikea]. The catalog, which made its way to 100 million households in 30 countries, is allegedly printed more than the Bible [source: Capell]. For shopping at Ikea though, nothing compares to an in-store visit, a trip that over 500 million people make in one year, with some driving hours to the nearest store.

If you've ever popped into Ikea for one thing only to emerge hours later, bewildered and loaded down with things you didn't expect to buy, that's no accident. While all retailers try to cultivate such an experience, Ikea seems to have a true knack for it. This is largely due to the setup of the stores and the amenities offered; with restaurants and daycare, it becomes easy to stay the entire day, and the store flow is set up so that you see and try almost all Ikea products. One executive has even suggested that Ikea is quality family time on par with going to the zoo or a theme park [source: Bartlett and Nanda].

For those of you that have never braved the traffic and the bargain hunters of an Ikea store, we'll take a virtual shopping trip. If you brought the kids along, feel free to drop them in Smaland, a children's play area named for the southern part of Sweden where Ikea started. You might pick them up for lunch in the cafeteria-style restaurant, where Swedish meatballs and lingonberry mousse keep hungry shoppers going.

Of course, they're welcome to accompany you on a trip through the showroom, which will be guided by arrows on the floor, taking you in turn through all of Ikea's major departments. There are shortcuts, but if you do the entire thing, you'll be escorted through sections of living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as sections of office furniture, shelving units and children's decorations. All of the products, from couches to beds, are out for you to try and test. There are also mock rooms set up, so that you can see just how great an Ikea lamp would look with your new Ikea bedroom set.

As you make your way through the showroom, you can ask for help from the staff located at information towers around the store, but you're largely on your own, equipped only with a pencil and paper so that you can make notes about what you want. You'll need these notes in the self-serve furniture area, where bookcases and coffee tables are waiting in flat packs. Before you get there, though, you'll wander through the marketplace, which is full of the home furnishings that can fill those new kitchen cabinets or accessorize your new couch. The marketplace includes cooking and eating items, textiles and rugs, lighting, prints and frames, and bathroom accessories.

Arrows guide shoppers through the textiles in the marketplace. Arrows guide shoppers through the textiles in the marketplace.
Arrows guide shoppers through the textiles in the marketplace.
Guang Niu/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Once you have what you need, it's off to the checkout. If you've burned off those meatballs, there's another chance for a snack at the bistro located near the checkouts where you could enjoy a hot dog or a cinnamon roll for a dollar or a less. If you can't get enough of Ikea's cooking, there's also a food market in many stores, so that you can take a little taste of Sweden home with you.

Ikea stores are about 300,000 square feet (27,871 square meters) on average, or about five football fields. Can such a big store be good for the environment in any way? Turn the page to find out.