I should have put up a sign: “away for moving“.
Moving into our new apartment opened up a whole new world of joy and possibilities, but also drew all my energy and time in the past two weeks. The list of to-do things seemed to get longer every day. Upgrading from 40 m2 to 95 m2, we soon found ourselves sitting in an empty salon, realizing how much I lacked furniture (even from a totally zen-inspired perspective).
What can a young couple, on-the-budget but not deprived of good taste, in order to turn an empty space into a home? Did I say without getting ruined? Yes, you guessed right: go to Ikea!
Israel may be a non-ordinary country under many aspects, but it has not been immune to the Ikea empire expansion. As of today, Ikea has only one establishment in Israel, located 20 mins north of Tel Aviv, in the city of Netanya (the average Ikea customer has to drive 45 km round-trip, despite their advertised environmental-friendly policy). It opened its wide, blue, sliding doors eight years ago. Judging from the lines at the cashiers, it has been doing pretty well. In Europe, Ikea is synonymous of bargain stylish(ish) furniture, fulfilling its motto: “design for all”. It is loved by young people, students, families. Lately, even my parents back in Italy, who owned a shop of antiques and can tell the difference between wood and formica, have succumbed to Ikea’s functional cupboards and cheap assemble-it-yourself closets.
Although I am not good with maths, and often get lost in translating shekels into euros, I straight away got a feeling that prices in Israel were well above the European catalog. The items being identical all over the world, it is easy to compare. A quick search on the internet confirmed this suspicion: the Marker newspaper reported that prices in Ikea Israel are indeed 30% higher than Ikea Britain and Holland, and 24% higher than France and Sweden. Amazing! Ikea Israel provides two main reasons for this difference: the high shipping and logistics costs of getting merchandise from Sweden to Israel, and the strong shekel versus foreign currencies. You could argue that when a currency is strong, imported goods become cheaper, but I leave this to the economists. To shape your own judgment, have a look at the comparative chart published in this article.
Let’s look at other, more down-to-earth aspects related to the Ikeasation of Israel. As a human experience, Ikea’s can be quite frankly devastating. First, they get you high with brightly lit, simulated livings you’ll never be able to afford. Then, they let you struggle around the shop to get away with cheaper equivalents, dribbling crowds of undecided visitors, religious families with their multiple parties, and the smell of baked salmon drawing you inevitably to the food court, even though you had lunch at home one hour before. When you finally make it to the downstairs, if your able to refrain from collecting even more gadgets, your bag or trolley becoming more and more of a burden to drag around, you might see the light at the end of the tunnel. Before the final checkout though, you have to face The Warehouse. Gone the soft lights, the yellow-shirted smiling helpers (by the way: do not go to Ikea with a yellow shirt like I did last Friday, unless you speak Swedish, know the catalog by heart and are willing to answer a few hundred questions about Billies). Here it all turns to neon lights and unfriendly, 30m tall, warehouse walls. Only the strongest will survive the maze, with no one in sight to help you getting your Malmö 12 kg bed frame down the shelf.
Another very frustrating, uniquely Ikea experience is what I refer to as the theft of the Shopper’s Dream. Imagine the following scenario (which happened to me twice, already): the fruit of your long, laborious, cherry-picked collection of items is proudly squeezed in the trolley, almost yours. But thou be aware! If thou happen to leave it unsupervised for ten minutes for whatever reason – to go to the loo, or to have a look at the corner of discounted items, were trolleys are banned – thou may find it no more.
Ikea has a sharp policy against abandoned stuff: some invisible employee who had until now been hiding at row F23, will spot the unsupervised trolley and make it disappear in the blink of an eye. The empty-handed disoriented costumer will then scrutinize the horizon, looking for signs of its treasure, incredulous. I once had a similar feeling when my car was stolen: helplessly staring at the parking spot, refusing to admit the obvious. Of course, at this point the customer is far too exhausted to admit the theft, and to go back the loop another time in order to pick up the same items he so carefully selected. If this zeal is the result of an all-Israeli, bomb-related high alertness, I am not given to know. Does it happen also in the other 283 branches all over the world?! I must tell you it left me with a very, very bitter taste.
One may wonder why doesn’t Ikea allow its customers to comfortably order items from home, over the phone or on the internet, with credit card payment. After all, they do spend millions to distribute their detailed catalog, printed in 25 languages in over 145 million copies annually, making it the second most printed book in the world after the Bible. Well: maybe because they do want you to drive to the shop and physically go through the maze. How else would you fall for secondary, desirable cheap objects you wouldn’t buy otherwise? I suspect this is actually their main percentage of income on overall sales. Did any of you manage to leave an Ikea store without some extra purchases? Twisted super-green bamboos, a steel, nostalgic potato squeezer, a fancy wok for 29 shekels: the list of temptations is endless.
There are other, less annoying peculiarities which distinguish the Israeli Ikea from the rest of the world’s: the restaurant is kosher, the store hours respect Shabbat, and it is whispered that the shop has its own, neatly designed, full-size synagogue in a bunker downstairs! Ah, and of course there is the metal detector and bag-inspections routine at the entrance. But for those living in Israel, security checks at public places has become such a non-issue that nobody will raise an eyebrow about it.