IKEA as a family attraction

An LA Times article documents Beijingers’ visit to IKEA. Families drive hours to visit the famous IKEA store, but not because of the well designed, DIY assembly furniture. They’ve come to experience the lifestyle and enjoy themselves in an air-conditioned space, where purchasing something is not necessary and their kids can jump and play on the furniture without care.

Every weekend, thousands of looky-loos pour into the massive showroom to use the displays. Some hop into bed, slide under the covers and sneak a nap; others bring cameras and pose with the decor. Families while away the afternoon in the store for no other reason than to enjoy the air conditioning.

Visitors can’t seem to resist novelties most Americans take for granted, such as free soda refills and ample seating. They also like the laid-back staffers who don’t mind when a child jumps on a couch.

“Our values are changing,” said Lizzy Hou, 25, a university graduate who moved to Beijing in May from neighboring Hebei province for a teaching job. “We want to be modern. I think IKEA stands for a kind of lifestyle. People don’t necessarily want to buy it, but they want to at least experience it.”

The article notes that when Wal-Mart and French company Carrefour entered China in the 1990s, they encountered similar problems with visitors and no purchasers, but now have millions of customers daily. Can IKEA sustain itself with locals not purchasing goods, but only using them in-store and traveling to the location like a theme park? How long will it take for customers to appreciate and purchase IKEA?

“Today we didn’t plan to buy anything, just eat and rest,” Bai said.

Many others arrive with the same intentions, sometimes bringing a book to read on a bouncy Poang armchair or carrying stuffed toys for their children to play with on a mattress. For the midday squatters, the abundance of seating is no small detail in a country of 1.3 billion where nabbing a subway or bus seat is practically a blood sport.

Visiting IKEA in Beijing is still on my list of things-to-do, which only keeps getting longer. I’m sure I’ll make a visit soon enough, now that I’m onto some apartment hunting; I’ve been warned that weekends are a nightmare, probably with loungers and visitors as noted in the article. Haha!

Read the entire piece here.

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