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So this past weekend - I went to go visit my BFF Kelly in Atlanta. Planning the visit we had a conversation that went a little like this...

Kelly: What do you want to do this weekend?
Jess: Umm, well - do you think we could go to Ikea?
Kelly: (short pause) Ikea? Sure, but that place makes me crazy!

We did go, and despite her initial reservations - we had a BLAST.  I brought my camera but the battery was dead (oops!) - so excuse lack of photos of us being goofballs.  Part of the reason this trip was different is that you have to understand going in that shopping at Ikea is not like shopping in other places.

Ikea can be a bit overwhelming for a couple reasons. First - it is BIG.  Like two Walmart's stacked on each other big.  Second - the names for things are all in Swedish - so they can be tricky to say or remember (what POANG?? that's a chair??).  Third - When you walk thru the Showroom you get idea overload that you may not remember when you get to the Marketplace and need to find that perfect thing so you can buy them.

So here are my tips for making your experience to Ikea enjoyable and productive.

Decide on the kind of trip you want to take
Are you on a mission to get a specific piece (i.e. I want this LACK TV Stand) or are you in need of a TV Stand and aren't quite sure what you want?
If you are on a specific item shop - skip the Showroom and head straight to the Marketplace.  See my tips below for how to navigate the Marketplace quickly!

If you are in a browsing type mood - plan a day for your trip.  Seriously - you don't want to end up in the bowels of Ikea and have to try to run out to make 2:30 movie date/soccer game/whatever.  Also I would recommend the following tips:
  • Make sure you wear comfy shoes. 
  • If you have an idea of the kind of things you are in the mood to shop for make sure you bring the facts.  Take measurements of your space at home, snap pics on your cell, and make a list of items you are interested in from the Ikea Website. 
  • When you arrive at the store and proceed directly to the cafe and get some food if you haven't eaten.  You will need your strength!  Personally - I recommend the Swedish Meatballs which are both yummy and high in protein.  Or they have a .99 cent breakfast with eggs, bacon, and potatoes.

Tips for the Showroom
Now that you have some food in your belly, you can head to the Showroom.  The Ikea showroom is set up in different sections with full rooms and even apartments that have been designed to showcase all the potential ideas for how and where you can use Ikea products.

Here are my tips for navigating the Showroom floor. 
  • As you enter the showroom, grab a map of the store, a pencil and a yellow shopping bag.  You shouldn't need a cart in the showroom since most of the items that are displayed for sale are small enough to fit in the bags. Remember that you can also pick them up in the Marketplace too. 
  • As you see things you like - separate them into to two categories to prevent yourself from overspending.
    • I need this right now and it is something I came in to purchase or 
    • This is a great idea and I should remember it, check out my house, see if it will work and get it next time. 
      • Note -  If you decide you like a product that has an installation guide (blinds, kitchens, office spaces) pick it up and take it home for further review.

  • The back of your map has a place for you to write down things you see that you want to find in the Marketplace.  After a small mishap this weekend where we forgot to do that - I would recommend not only writing down the name of the item and what it is and where you can find it, but also take a camera phone picture of it so you can also see it when you are looking at a slew of options in the Marketplace.
  • Also - check the tag. 
    • If it has a RED tag - also write down the aisle number and bin number.  You will need that when you go to pick it up from the self serve furniture warehouse. 
    • If it has a YELLOW tag - you will have to find an associate to special order it for you.
Tips for the Marketplace 
Once you wander through the Showroom maze you will eventually be dumped out downstairs at the Marketplace.  Dazed and enlightened (this is when you will be glad I told you to eat something) you will now be tasked to find all your treasures.  At this point if you thought to yourself - I didn't need to write it down - you will realize that you were indeed wrong.  Because there are THOUSANDS of things for sale down there.  So notes in hand - here are my tips to get you through.

The Marketplace is divided into two areas
    • There is a normal shopping-type-aisle-area for the smaller stuff - lamps, linens, bath stuff, kitchen tools, art, etc. 
      • You will probably need a cart here to get all your goodies picked up so grab one when you get dumped out in the Marketplace.
      • If you see something you like and it is on sale - pick it up.  If you decide you don't want it, there are bins in front of the checkout to dump things in.  But things go fast.  Kelly thought she liked a lamp, looked at the rest of them, decided she wanted it and in the space of like 10 minutes they were sold out. 
      • They will sell the floor model only if they will be out of stock for a couple weeks.  
      • Make sure you get all the accessories.  Some of their products need specific accessories (i.e. some of the lamps only take specific Ikea bulbs).
      • Again - remember your want vs. need list.  If you think - oh I need that and then you get down to the Marketplace and realize it is slightly more complicated than you thought to put together (i.e. some of their blind systems are like this) - stop and make sure you are making the right decision before you purchase. 
    • The next area of the Marketplace is the HUGE self-serve furniture pickup area. If you are buying furniture - get your flat rolling cart and get to it. 
      • Most furniture items are there for you to go find (this is when you need that aisle and bin number off the red tag).  If you didn't write down that info - there are little self serve computer stations that will let you look it up.  They will also tell you if they are instock. 
      • Make sure you check when you are picking up the item that you HAVE the right one.  This is self serve so people pick things up and put them back in the wrong place.  Check the tag and the color to make sure you have the right one. 
      • If you are getting a couch or a mattress - no one will expect you to get that off the shelf yourself.  Tell an associate what you need and they will print you off a paper to take to the register where once you purchase it - someone will bring it out to you. 
From there you make your way to the register, pay for your items, load em up and head home to assemble! 

So tell me, are you guys Ikea converts already or scared to death to even try to navigate the store?  Do the cheap prices justify the crazy experience?  Have you had a good or bad Ikea experience?  I wanna know!  Oh and I hope to give you a run down soon of what all I got when I was there - I may have scored a piece of furniture that will help complete a room I have been working on forever!

70 frugal friends said ...

hizzle said... @ July 1, 2010 at 7:35 AM

I've never been to Ikea, but I'm dying to go.
However, I do realize I need to be equipped with enough money to support me going, otherwise I may get grouchy seeing so many things I want but can not buy.
Thanks for these tips though, I'm going to keep it in mind if/when I do go.
I mean, hey, ATL is only 3 hours away...

Irene @ OurUglyHome said... @ July 1, 2010 at 7:49 AM

I'm a HUGE Ikea fan. We are buying our kitchen from there in a few weeks and it's only costing us around $2400. Can you believe it.

I truly could spend an entire day at Ikea if I went alone. I agree with your tips - having food in your belly helps. and their swedish meaballs are yummy and cheap!

Nadine said... @ July 1, 2010 at 8:16 PM

My tip? Don't go to IKEA with my husband. He likes to walk in, get what he needs and walk out...... I look at EVERYTHING! lol! So our shopping styles clash a bit, lol! Also, go early in the morning, go at an off peak time and allow an hour extra for the kids to muck around at every ball pit/ play area/ kids department bla, bla, bla... ha, ha. :) Can't wait 'til my next visit.

Kym said... @ July 2, 2010 at 3:25 AM

Thanks for the great advice. i'll make sure i'm prepared.. it's on my list of things to do ! ! Cheers Kym

Erin said... @ February 9, 2011 at 9:40 AM

IKEA is a wonderful place! I've been known to check my girls into Småland and go upstairs to the cafeteria to get a snack and do some studying. When their hour is up I pick them up and we do our shopping. My girls (ages 7 and 4)love to shop at IKEA too.

srldesign said... @ February 27, 2011 at 11:31 PM

I love Ikea! I usually go online to scope out what I think I want, make a list and then procede to the store. I agree that you should make time for shopping, I only plan on going when I am by myself and, hopefully without the kids and no other appointments. but i suggest going on line checking things out first, bc the showrooms do get you into trouble (sometimes) =) overall, i love going.

Lauren @ 31diy said... @ March 17, 2011 at 11:07 AM

I wish I would have read this first before I made my first IKEA trip last weekend. Haha! I ended up picking up lots of items in the showroom and then the cashier said I couldn't purchase the showroom item.

May I say I recommend the non-fat vanilla yogurt for $1 at the refreshment center in IKEA. Yum!

Jessica said... @ September 4, 2011 at 2:16 AM

I absolutely LOVE Ikea. I'm only 21, still live with my parents, and I can't get enough of that place. The prices are super cheap and their stuff is amazingly well put together. I agree that it takes forever to shop there, and my sister and I usually spend all day there, even if we end up just buying a few candles haha. It's so much fun and the showrooms are so beautiful, I'm envious that I can't have one until I move out hah.

Jessica @ Sunny Tuesday said... @ November 4, 2011 at 3:56 PM

When we go to visit my in-laws, we always try to make a trip to Ikea in Orlando. I love it! We got nightstands and a bookcase for our tv last time. Next up is a chair to put in the living room in place of our (gasp!) papasan.

Rita Shehan said... @ February 9, 2012 at 12:45 PM

The stuff at IKEA always looks great, but don't expect anything to last. The products are super trendy and stylish but they seem to be made out of the cheapest products possible.

Good for decorating your home with items that you will replace in a year or two.

Larissa Dobbin said... @ July 10, 2012 at 1:37 PM

Shopping in a big store like this can be overwhelming. With hundreds of choices in front of you, you would eventually be confused over what truly want to buy. To add another tip, what you can do is come to the store with specific items in mind. Usually, big stores do have online sites where you can see what’s in store. It would also help if you avoid roaming around too much. Focus on the item you need.

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