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2005-05-31 Hill cottage escapes Ikea experience

When Ikea opened yet another outlet earlier this year, in Edmonton in North London, thousands of confirmed shopaholics piled through the doors during the first hours of opening.

 

Physical fighting broke out, and amid mass hysteria five people were taken to hospital. We have had `road rage', and `air rage'; is `retail rage' next? I would like to think that if I found myself raising a fist to someone while tussling over a bargain, I would step back for a moment, study the greater picture, go to the Information desk, and place an order for the offending product.

Recently I made my Ikea debut. I had driven a huge van from Dublin to Glasgow in order to collect all my worldly belongings, which had been in storage at a friend's house since my Scottish Opera days.

On the way back I paid my first visit to Ikea to see what all the fuss was about, and to fill the remaining gaps left in my rented Ford Transit. Clutching my Yorkie, I reversed my truck skilfully into a tight space amidst a vast ocean of cars, miles from the store entrance. It was Sunday morning, and everyone was at Ikea, with their Bible - the Ikea brochure.

According to recent statistics in the UK, more people attend Ikea on a Sunday, than church. What does that say about society? Has `Materialism' become a God? On that sunny Sunday in suburban Scotland, that giant superstore did seem to me like a "Retail-park of Eden".

Places like Ikea seem to have made shopping into a day-out experience, like a `retail adventure-park'. Some might suggest it is more like a `Human Safari Park', with thousands of examples of the belligerent `Greater common shopper'. A crache service means that parents can concentrate more fully on spending ; a restaurant gives you the option of a lunch break, mid-shop. As soon as I passed
through the main doors of Ikea, I found myself climbing stairs and following the arrows of an extremely well-laid-out one-way store- path.

The clever store-plan meant that I was passing by everything Ikea had to offer along the way. Little extras had been added to furniture en route, with signs saying "available in the Market Hall Kitchen Department", cleverly positioned at the end of the shopping path. To get to what I wanted I had to pass by some beautifully-designed, almost classic at times, bedroom and sitting-room furniture - it was all really a rather seductive shopping experience, shopping psychology at its most ingenious. (Supermarket designers place sweets at checkouts for suckers like me).

I was drawn towards a lampshade. The tag said £25 a little excessive - then I realised £25 was for the entire standard lamp the shade was £4. An attractive kitchen clock for £5 seemed simply too good to leave behind, even though they had 200 others. I was going to quickly by-pass carpets and rugs.

I didn't need rugs, but at £40 I needed rugs! I was on the verge of buying some nice shelves, but when I saw that they were self- assembly, I got a disturbing flashback to my months in flat-pack hell. I began to break out in a cold sweat ; luckily, they were too high up on their own shelf to reach anyway.

Ikea was started by a Swede called Ingvar Kamprad. ABBA, Jussi Björling and Ikea - well, two out of three aint bad. Some product names may perhaps have been more carefully translated - I certainly was too embarrassed to stand in the lengthy check-out queues with a `flog' or a `prik' in my trolley. I was just a little disturbed by my fellow shoppers, all with similar purchases in their trolleys, and
please bear in mind that last year an estimated 365 million people visited Ikea worldwide. Once they had my money, I was not allowed wheel my trolley to my van, and was forced to lug everything by hand.

Even though we spend hundreds of thousands of euro purchasing a house, we adopt a `bargain-hunting mentality' in order to fill it. Surely such mass production will begin to make house decoration and furnishing global, and houses will soon lack individuality and charm. Yes, I was lured by Ikea, but only half-filled my trolley. Hopefully my wee cottage in the hills is far enough away to retain its individuality.