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Ottawa’s New Ikea: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

People go on and on about how much they hate Walmart and how evil it is. But you rarely hear the same people talk about Ikea with the same vehemence. I even checked: Google results for “I hate Ikea” are 13 million, where as “I hate Walmart” delivers more than 58 million results. And we all know that Google knows everything.

After making my first visit to the largest Ikea in Canada, I find this rather perplexing since I would much rather shop at my local Walmart than my new, huge, local Ikea, that’s for sure. Perhaps it’s that Ikea, with its design aesthetic and clever ads, is just more trendy and easier to like? More, how shall we say … yuppie.

I’m sure there are lots of sophisticated reasons for hating Walmart more than Ikea, but really, I think we’ve all probably been too gentle on our Swedish friend. Both pay their employees low wages, both have a significant impact on landscape due to the sheer size of their stores, both list China as a major supplier, and both encourage mass consumption.

But let’s put aside the “big perspective,” for a moment and let me rant, as an individual, about how irksome my recent shopping experience was at Ikea.

1. Reserved Parking for Hybrid Vehicles: As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a whole bunch of available parking spots right near the front. I assumed these spots were reserved for drivers with disabilities. But nooooo … these were for hybrid vehicles. Ha! Who does Ikea think its target market really is? The people shopping at Ikea are driving in from the suburbs in their mini-vans and SUVs or hitching a ride with their roommate in a beat-up second-hand car. Silly Ikea. Those hybrid car owners are strolling about their local, gentrified neighbourhood boutiques. So, there they sat — all these prime parking spots — empty.

2. No Windows: Enclosed spaces are not for humans. They might be necessary for transporting humans — like elevators or airplanes — but they are generally unpleasant. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be building codes for bedrooms to have windows, or office designs built around windows. Windows are pleasant. There are no windows where the products are in Ikea stores. It’s the same premise that casinos use, which helps people lose track of time and spend more money. Ikea’s funneling system (see #3) seems to magnify the effect that no windows has upon me.

3. The Lab Rat Syndrome: All Ikeas are built to push consumers past every single one of their wares. It is a single funnel that you are extruded through like an object or animal …. or, well, worse. The smaller Ikea we had in Ottawa did this of course, but its scale was so much smaller that it was merely irksome. On this more massive, larger scale? We moved between feeling like cattle being prodded through to the slaughterhouse to lab rats being observed from up high as we muddled through a maze. It felt uncomfortable. Too controlled. I had to fight an overwhelming sensation to run madly screaming, “Help! Where’s the exit?!”

4. Enviro-Cool: It seems that Ikea has jumped on the enviro-cool wagon. I’m all for enviro-friendly, but enviro-cool is just grating. Take the hybrid parking noted above. This is touted as one of their many eco-friendly features. But who are they kidding? All Ikea furniture is destined for the landfill — it cannot be passed down from generation to generation, heck, it can’t even be used second-hand because it won’t last long enough for that! Another stat used in virtually every press release and blog post that I read noted that this Ottawa Ikea store was 40% more efficient than its last store. Sure, that’s great … but if it really wanted to be enviro-friendly, it wouldn’t be the 18 times larger than the arena at ScotiaBank Place! The size is just crazy big. Too big, in fact, to be enjoyable (see #3).

IKEA employee Carol Taylor organizes rows upon rows of IKEA shopping carts the day of the superstore's grand opening Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011.

Photography credit: Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen.

5. The Ottawa Sky-Line: Anyone who has recently driven eastward from Kanata on the Queensway on the way home from work has wondered: “Huh? What is that large light?” Only to find that it is the new, huge electronic billboard on the side of the Ikea building. Change to the horizon and our day-to-day landscape is inevitable, but this one is so ugly that it’s hard not to feel a little put out by it.

So there we have it: why I did not enjoy shopping in the new and “improved” Ottawa Ikea. In this case, I didn’t find bigger to be better. You? Love or hate, share your tales in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Julie: I haven’t been to the new IKEA, and having read your excellent post, I never will be. The illustration of the store layout looks like a panic-inducing nightmare.

    • coffee with Julie says:

      In all seriousness, the layout is panic-inducing for anyone with does not feel comfortable in enclosed spaces. You are forced into the top floor (which is the map shown) and have to travel through it in order to get to the first floor where the exit is.

  2. Well, I do agree that bigger is not always better and that there are surely political issues with IKEA just as there is with Walmart and other big conglomerates, but as you probably expected, I disagree with a couple of your irks.

    1. Hybrid parking spaces. I think it’s great that people that have hybrids get to have better parking, the same as the pregnant women spots. They might not always be full, but if Andrea pulls up she’ll always have a spot right by the door ;).
    2. No windows – how many stores have windows beyond the store front? Winners? Boutique in Westboro? Rideau Centre? It’s the nature of stores that they don’t have windows. However, this IKEA has a great amount of windows in the restaurant which the old one did not have and I find that quite pleasant.
    3. Lab Rat – that concept has been true to IKEA since the 60s – you can always cut your way through the maze though, I find the shortcuts quite easy to find.
    4. Landfill – My mother has had her 12 Billy bookcases since 1978 – she’s moved about 10 times with them and they are still great. I have multiple hand-me down or second-hand IKEA stuff which is in perfect condition and I’ve had sheets for 10+ years that are in very good condition.
    While the skyline is not improved by the blue and yellow box I must admit that coming from that direction the Scotiabank place is an eye sore as well, as are the rows and rows of West End suburbia I just passed (my opinion), so I don’t think something ugly was placed in a pretty area, but rather something ugly in already ugly…

    My biggest irk in the past was that half the stuff was not available at the Ottawa store and now it is, so I’m happy that I don’t have to go to Montreal to get specifics or pay for shipping.

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      I’ll give you a point for the windows argument (#2), but that’s about it. 😉 

      The Hybrid parking and Bike racks still make me laugh (#1). The shortcuts aren’t really short (#3) — you’re telling me you can swing into Ikea and pick up a frame using those shortcuts? Riiiggght. As for #4, you are the first and only person who’s ever told me that they think Ikea furniture is well-made and lasting. And the skyline? That brightly lit electronic billboard sign is totally over the top and unnecessary.

      • ha,ha – for the frames I’d take a right, go through the cash area, head left and grab a frame past the market hall – then turn around and head through the self-checkout 😉

      • Golden Pear says:

        I have an Ikea table that I bought second-hand in 1991, still going strong.  No idea how old it really is.  Come to think of it, all my Ikea stuff is still going strong, even after several moves.  Either I’m easy on my things or choosy at the store, but I don’t have any complaints about the quality either — not exactly heirlooms, but not falling apart either.  Though I agree the buildings are indeed ugly.

        As for the lab rat thing, well, I take the shortcuts, cut through displays, and walk back through the cash register at our store out west all the time.  So far, no Ikea police telling me not to…in fact, last time I was there, a friendly associate held the “exit only” door so I could enter with my stroller.

        Suspect the bike racks are for the staff.   Thinking outside the box…

        • coffee with Julie says:

          The bike racks are the staff! Aha! Of course! I hadn’t even thought of that. Now it finally makes sense! (Thanks for stopping by Golden Pear)

    • I am soooo happy to have a spot right by the door. I think more stores need to reward Hybrid drivers! We should have our own highway lane too! 😉

  3. I thought I commented yesterday, but I guess not…
    Tony and I went yesterday, without kids even, and it was a true test to our marriage. Ugh ugh ugh ugh!
    And it is truly the most hideous view from the Queensway…a real blight on architectural design in Ottawa.

  4. My entire family uses Billy Bookcases. I do here in Toronto, my parents in Oakville, my sister in Vancouver, my aunt and her kids in Switzerland…They may not be the best made, but they are good enough and attractive enough, in my opinion, to feel satisfied with them. I would buy them again, including the doors.

    Will they survive a move? Not sure. Haven’t tried that yet. I did move the semi-sized book shelf around the livingroom a few times and would not encourage that. Flimsy isn’t the right description but it’s not made for moving around, that’s for sure. Hence, the price, I guess…

    Mass consumption…yes. I agree. You rarely go there without coming home with something. But a lot of that happens at Walmart, and all its associated big box stores, doesn’t it.

    I like ikea but not so much that I purchase everything there. The few items I do have, which are not big furniture pieces, I’m happy with. For example, the wire curtain system I have on a bay window I’m very pleased with, although the curtains themselves I did not get at ikea…things like that. And I also mentioned how sometimes they simply inspire…their lay-out, their ideas, especially for smaller homes or apartment/condo living. Walking through their display area gives me ample ideas on how to set up something in my own little bungalow…

    Having said all that, the Etobicoke store in Ontario is big but not gigantic, although since they renovated, I feel more, not less, lab-ratish, so I thought they did a poor job redesigning the space.

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong … it’s not that I don’t like a lot of their products (as per the post from yesterday, where I shared what I bought), it’s that I didn’t find the actual shopping experience enjoyable. If I could swing in and pick up something easily, I’d shop there frequently — frames, storage bins, linens, even a Billy bookcase or two 😉 But it just feels like such work in this big, massive version of the store. However, I do realize that this is their business model, and it obviously works for them.

  5. I would have to disagree with you comparing ikea to walmart in terms of paying low wages. I have considered applying many times, as a friend of mine works there, and makes over 15.00 an hour (and is not a manager). They also offer 80% benefits to those working part time and 100% coverage to the full time workers. I have heard it is a great place to work, and that a large majority of the people there have been there for years. Did you only base your opinion on the link you posted, even that link you posted doesnt speak about wages…

    also, there is an entrance to the 2nd floor just behind the escalator that takes you to the 3rd floor. This allows you to bypass the upstairs and just go to the area where all the product is stocked. It is the door that says entrance to markethall.

    The windows are insane at the new store! There are so many of them! I challenge you to find a store with as many windows, if any! There are also a bunch of skylights in the warehouse for natural light. I am guessing you didnt notice those, I think about 20 of them.

    • coffee with Julie says:

      I’m glad to hear that the wages are pretty good at Ikea — especially since they now employ another 100 local people here in Ottawa. The link I used does info on wages, however, I grant you it is old (2006) but was all I could find available. Using the info on that link, hourly wage is $8.80, but is surely higher now in 2011 with our Ontario min wage set at $10.25/hour. Here is some specific wording from that link: 
      IKEA doesn’t release pay or benefit information, but spokesman Joseph Roth says, “Co-workers are paid a living wage,” with no waiting period for benefits. Fortune magazine reports that IKEA salespeople earn $18,300 a year. 

  6. Nice post Julie.  I noticed a lot of people lamenting the spread of “Black Friday” in Canada were the same people who couldn’t wait to get into IKEA.  What is it about IKEA that inspires so much excitement?

    • coffee with Julie says:

      I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it works! They have a major fan-base … and I can’t think of any other major box store that does.

  7. your last two posts were interesting and i liked them, but you’d rather shop at wal-mart than ikea?  i mean, wal-mart is more pervasive than ikea, which only as one store i know of for hundreds of miles.  we know wal-mart.  they’re all the same – aisles are labelled everything is grouped together, you could buy have your stuff just waiting in line…  i don’t go to ikea often, only when i need furniture or a frame – stuff like that.  it’s usually pretty specific – but i don’t really know ikea.  so it takes me longer to find stuff.  but that’s okay because ikea is more interesting than wal-mart.  all other issues aside, it’s certainly more interesting to shop in ikea than wal-mart.  and maybe it’s more yuppy, but it’s also built for a transient society.  it’s easy to assemble and not clunky, easy to move, and surprisingly durable. i’ve had tons of stuff from ikea and almost all of it survives (or survived for years).  it might look nice, but that expensive and heavy oak armoire seems more suitable for a class argument than anything else.  maybe it’s tradition that’s being lost with ikea?  personally, i had opportunities to take heirloom furniture of my family’s with me when i left home but simply couldn’t because they were heavy as hell.  it’s why we have flatscreen tvs instead of mu parents’ huge wooden box, size-of-a-freezer television.

    1.  hybrid spots – i heard about this a while ago but it seems pretty inconsequential.  everyone knows pregnant and handicapped people get the prime spots and we usually have to walk a little bit anyways.  hybrid cars are impact less on the environment, so why shouldn’t we reward those people?  

    2.  windows – when i enter a store, i know i’m going into a place that i will spend money usually.  and the store knows it too.  why else would i be there?  (i guess there are reasons, but i rarely go into a store just to “look”).  i don’t want to see the outside because then i’m doing both things – in a store buying crap, and seeing the outside where i would rather be.  same with offices – who stays longer in the office?  those with offices with windows?  or those without?  who is happier in their jobs?  who is more “successful”?  when i go to a store, it’s to buy.  no need to rub it in.  but like i said above, ikea is more interesting for a lot of reasons, one of them being how everything looks.  i think windows would be unnecessary in ikea.

    3.  lab rat – it’s absolutely a lab-rat maze.  it’s sometimes annoying when you have to backtrack through the little alleys but it’s not too bad.  i always found stuff out of place at the old one, kind of random – which was pretty awesome.  but that’s coming from a person who is only a functional shopper at these big stores.  but i like the funnel – i feel like an idiot staring at the ceilings for signs.  i know in ikea that if i just keep walking forward, i will eventually find the right thing.  the other thing that was awesome?  the warehouse where you could pick up your own stuff and walk out.  

    4.  e-cool – i’ve never had a problem with ikea stuff.  you get what you pay for, i suppose.  it’s a generational difference, maybe?  i mean, i’m not too big on “passing-down” i guess – maybe it’ll make sense when i have kids.  at the same time, maybe it’s different if you’re living in the city, tiny apartment, a furnished place – whatever.  if you live in a big house and have room for lots of stuff it makes sense.  i don’t know enough about the building specs. to really know, but i think a big building could be more efficient than a smaller, older building.  it still takes up a lot of space though.

    5.  i-ke-a big building – i agree.  it’s massive, ugly, and offensive but so are many buildings on that highway.  the palladium (or whatever the name is), the corel building, condos, bayshore mall…  all ugly

    • Glad you enjoyed the posts. As for your question: “You’d rather shop at Wal-Mart than Ikea?” Well, two things to consider (1) I tend to get carried away while I’m on a rant! 😉 (2) I mean in terms of a quick and easy shopping experience. As a general rule, I don’t enjoy shopping and I want to do it quickly. So, if I need a frame or a hall rug, it’s far easier to pop into a Wal-Mart than an Ikea. But in terms of actual products and the display of products, Ikea definitely comes out on top.

  8. Oooo, Ikea vs WalMart smackdown? I’m in!  I have to say I disagree — to me, a trip to Ikea is a treat, even just to browse, and I will go miles out of my way to avoid WalMart.  In the press kit for the new store, they said more than 45 per cent of Ikea staff have been there a decade or longer — they must treat them pretty darn good.  I don’t think you’d find that kind of loyalty in most retail jobs.  Funny, I have a list of complaints about Ikea (non-standard sizes is at the top of it) but the five points you listed don’t faze me. 

    • coffee with Julie says:

      Smackdown? Haha! Love that word! Not really any smackdown going on though … it’s more like if you put a gun to my head and said, “Buy a frame — choose Walmart or Ikea — right now.” I’d pick Walmart; simply for the less-hassle factor. But, truth be told, I don’t like shopping in malls or mega-stores at all. The sheer size of the mall/stores and parking lots just eats up so much time and energy. In fact, I try to avoid most shopping (shoes and books are my exceptions!). I do almost all of my shopping online. It is just so much easier to do in terms of time management. I haven’t always been this way … I used to really enjoy shopping when I was younger. Maybe I’m just getting grumpy in my old age! :)  

  9. I can tell you from friends and family experience that Ikea Ottawa takes excellent care of its employees. So much so that people have been known to quit and shortly afterwards reapply. Additionally, they offer many perks to keep their employees happy and motivated. I suggest you brush up on your facts.

    As well, I furnished my first apartment with Ikea products, some secondhand, and have found the pieces to hold up fairly well (included some hacked ones). Considering many of their items require assembly by the consumer, I would guess that a good percentage of the products that don’t last can be attributed to poor construction rather than quality of materials. On that vein, if you are building the furniture it is not difficult to add reinforcements to prolong the life of your furniture.

    Having said all that, I don’t think Ikea is without it’s own evils (no corporate retailer isn’t) but I would readily deal with the inconvenient shopping experience if it meant supporting a company with good initiatives and employee practices. 

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      Hi Guest! Thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure what facts you want me to brush up on though. I wrote that “both pay their employees low wages.” I didn’t say they didn’t treat their employees nice or give them benefits or perks. Do you have evidence to the contrary? If so, please share and I will correct and amend my statement. Also, if someone quits (why did they quit in the first place?) and re-applies again, couldn’t that just mean that they couldn’t find a job elsewhere? 

  10. I also don’t like the new look. The old building was quite good to browse around.

  11. The person or persons who designed the new Ottawa Ikea store should be taken by helicopter and dropped from a high height into the North Sea.  On the next trip the people who are responsible for the signage should be similarly disposed of.

    BTW, I parked my non-hybrid car in a hybrid spot.  Screw their environmentalism veneer.

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