Monday Postcard #95 – Tales of Ikea
Life is like Ikea furniture – you have to make it through once to know how it works and you probably never need those skills again. (Wolfgang, my brother, after a long day of Ikea furniture assembly)
There are so many examples of global brands thinking locally. McDonald’s adapted its menu – from spicier options in China to completely vegetarian restaurants in India. Starbucks has different coffee and food options (such as red bean buns in Asia). But my all-time favourite to illustrate regional and intercultural differences is Ikea.
Ikea in Austria – and most of Europe – is associated with your first home. When you move out of your parents’ to attend university or start your first job. It is considered affordable furniture which you will probably not take on into your “forever home”.
I always thought it is quite normal to move out of your parents house at the age of 18 – after high school. But over the years, I experienced that this is not the norm. In Mediterranean countries, people often only move out of their parents place and in with their partners after they get married. In notoriously expensive cities like Hong Kong, the younger generation tries to stay at home as long as possible because rents are simply not affordable with a starting salary. In Indian families it is not uncommon to stay with the parents even after you get married.
Whatever the specific situation, most of us have ended up at Ikea at least once. I cannot even remember my first trip to the Swedish furniture retailer anymore. Well, I remember that my mum was called to pick me up from Smalland – Ikea’s then playground with a slide into colourful balls. I had pestered my parents that I wanted to go there but quickly decided it was not for me and threw a tantrum. (I have always been very strong at expressing my thoughts 😉 ).
At Ikea in Austria it is all about doing it yourself. DIY-culture is big. It is not uncommon to even build your entire house yourself. Ikea caters to this culture: The customers choose the items, pick them up, bring them home and assemble them. This is the Ikea experience. It is also a test for your relationship – Can you survive putting a dining area together and make up after the fight? Ikea’s assembly service is only used for complicated things such as kitchen areas. It is probably also related to the cost (€ 30 for delivery € 99 + 20% of the product value) for ordinary furniture items. And who remembers this feeling of accomplishment when after hours of trying, your new chair Mikael is finally part of your dining area? You only have five more to assemble!
In Asia, Ikea and DIY do not necessarily go together. Ikea is not considered student furniture but high-end European design. In general, it is very rare to fix things in the house by yourself in Asia. Most of the things are outsourced. If locals see you carrying stuff or fixing things by yourself, they probably consider you poor, a mizor or simply crazy.
In Thailand, the fee of about BHT 900 (about EUR 27 and USD 30) for delivery AND assembly, is just a bit more than hiring a van to lug your things home yourself and assemble them. In Singapore, there was not even a pick-up area for the bigger items. Customers get a ticket and the staff gets the purchase from the warehouse.
In Shanghai and Hong Kong, Ikea is used as a meet-up, date location, study place or alternative to your own bed. It is not uncommon to see people taking naps in the bed display area. Ikea is an escape from the small apartments. In Singapore, Ikea takes the term “baby-paradise” to the next level: Screaming babies and toddlers everywhere. In Austria, it is very common to see heavily pregnant women pushing prams and passing time.
However different the Ikea experience may be all over the world, there is one thing which will be the same: The face of your boyfriend or husband when you tell him how excited you are about going to Ikea on the weekend.
This is not a sponsored post, no fees were received and the article is purely based on the experience of Elisabeth Steiger. Ikea was mentioned to illustrate cultural differences and localisation of brands.