Here Are Some Secrets To IKEA's Amazing Store Design

How do you sell 9,500 single-brand home furnishing products in single store without being too overwhelming?

You do it in a very big and extremely well-designed store.

The only company that has pulled this off is IKEA, which has opened 345 retail locations and is expanding rapidly around the world. The company’s $38 billion in annual revenue is larger than the GDP of Serbia, and it aims to reach $US50 billion by 2020.

We recently visited the IKEA in Brooklyn and were blown away by the shopping experience. It’s not that it’s all fun or that IKEA products are that great — they’re worth it if you know what you’re doing but can be annoyingly shoddy. What impressed me was that the IKEA shopping experience was sort of fun and certainly worthwhile, with thoughtful design that gave me a favourable impression of the brand and led me to buy more.

The IKEA Experience in one customer traffic heat map. The store isn't too overwhelming, but it is overwhelming enough, with signs that direct customers in a disorienting maze, showing them so many products and making them spend so much time that they end up buying more than they planned on.

But first you've got to get there. Located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the IKEA New Yorkers use is accessible by a free or cheap ferry from Manhattan, which is how my adventure began.

This is where I spend the rest of my day.

Shoppers can grab a regular cart or big yellow bags and a rolling bag holder. Note the cheap delivery and paid assembly options advertised in the lobby.

Drop your stuff off here ...

Drop your kids off here ...

And then up the escalator to the most impressive store in the world.

First stop is the cafeteria, just what hungry travellers from Manhattan want and what we need to sustain hours of shopping.

IKEA food is cheap and good too.

After that whole horse meat scandal, there are signs promising high quality Swedish meatballs.

Incredibly, many things at IKEA get cheaper each year.

Signs throughout the store explain the economical and environmental benefits of IKEA's cheap methods. This one explains why customers should clear their own dishes.

Finally we're ready to shop, starting on the top floor Showroom.

The giant chair area has ample places to sit down -- a feature that one appreciates when walking through the 346,000 square foot store.

Behold the light but sturdy Lack coffee table, one of IKEA's top sellers.

Beside the main show room, there are dozens of little rooms showing how products look in place.

A man takes a break to look out one of the few windows ...

At a beautiful view.

Now on to the tiny model homes that are scattered through the store. This one at 575 square feet is pretty impressive ...

But this one at 391 square feet is even cooler.

It's amazing how much they fit into these spaces ...

Which inspires many people to furnish their whole apartment in IKEA.

As you walk through the store, the model homes get smaller and smaller, yet even this 270 square foot home is impressive ...

With a pleasant kitchen and dining area ...

And strategic use of lofting.

Throughout the store there are signs pointing to a distant exit, spurring shoppers onward.

Through the room full of stoves ...

The room full of closets, including the legendary Pax system that keeps getting cheaper ...

The room full of beds, strategically placed at a point where shoppers are tired ...

Glad for an excuse to lie down ...

Myself included.

And now for ground floor Marketplace, which is packed with smaller items, as well as a warehouse of flat-packed furniture and checkout.

After perusing big ticket items upstairs, the downstairs shopping experience feels like 'Super Market Sweep.'

They've got everything you need in your house and it's all super cheap (though buyer be warned, as some items I bought here, like these super cheap plates, were damaged very easily).

It seems like half the art in Manhattan comes from this room.

And then we get to the warehouse, where customers track down flat packs containing large items and carry them out on dollies. Getting customers to buy into this self-serve mentality -- which carries through to the assembly of furniture -- is the greatest trick IKEA ever pulled.

(Note: Photo from a N.J. IKEA.)

Then the checkout line. It is by far the ugliest part of the IKEA experience.

People are tired by the time they get here and the lines are long. I saw one fight almost break out when someone appeared to cut.

At least there are undeniably useful knickknacks to buy even here.

The last brilliant touch comes after the checkout, when tired customers get another chance to eat and buy Swedish food to take home.

A day well spent.

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