Ikea - A shopping hell, especially when their stock system collapses

IKEA International GroupImage via WikipediaCompletely off-topic but I went through an extended version of male hell last week that I felt worth recounting to highlight corporate ineptness, courtesy of a trip to an Ikea store.

Normally a painful experience, it was doubly bad because unbeknown to us, Ikea was celebrating 21 years in the UK and so had reduced all stock by 21% for one day only. As a consequence, the enormous store at Wembley was heaving with people when we arrived, with huge traffic jams for several miles around the store.

However, my gripe with Ikea is not that shopping there is unpleasant because their stores are heaving but simply that their front of house experience is completely let down by their woeful fulfilment and logistics.

Walking around the showrooms on the upper floor, you are met with well designed products at reasonable prices. There was also an abundance of store assistants, supplemented by an army of people dedicated to signing you up to their free "family" card. Despite the crowds, it was still tolerable.

But then after noting down the details of the items you wish to purchase and making your way through the store maze, by which time an hour has elapsed, the horror kicks in.

The "self service" area, where you pick up your chosen goods from pallet racks, is devoid of all but a couple of stressed out staff. These people are besieged by many customers needing assistance, typically with queries about stock locations. In our case, having chosen several items, which their online web site reported were in stock in large quantities e.g. 92, none could be found on the shop floor.

After waiting 20 minutes in a queue to speak to an assistant we are told that whilst their system reports that there is a large quantity of stock in the store for both items, they are probably high up on the pallet shelves and hence inaccessible, since they only replenish customer accessible locations out of store hours.

Ok, so could we pay for the goods today given the discount on offer and have them delivered? NO.

How about pay today and then collect when they are available? NO

How about we pay full price to get them delivered? NO

Well , can we ring up and reserve them with a credit card when they become available, so as not to make a fruitless journey to the store only to find them gone when we arrive? NO.

Can we pay you money?????????????? NO.

Only option volunteered was to ring the store and ask for a physical location check, given that the sales volumes had rendered the stock inventory system unreliable. And this experience was limited to Wembley, as our telephone enquiries to other stores made clear.

Time spent = 2 hour round trip to store thanks to heavy traffic jams + 1 hour around store + 2 mins queuing + 30 mins checkout.

Sadly, on the three occasions we've been to Ikea, we've had similar experiences. Moreover, recounting the story at the school gate, my wife learnt of numerous similar experiences from other mums, including one from the previous day when a lady had spent 3 hours queuing in the returns section.

Since our trip to the store six days ago, we've called daily and been amazed to find that they still haven't replenished the store, citing the huge backlog resulting from the one-off sale. Added to which, they mentioned all stock in the store is having to be recounted because the computerised inventory records are so unreliable.

If you were the Managing Director, CFO or Operations Director, leaving aside congratulating yourselves for the success of the one-off sale, surely you would be both seriously concerned by the reputational harm done to your brand by such chaos, but also motivated to address deficiencies that resulted in lost sales/cash due to inventory sitting idly in inaccessible locations within stores. At the same time, to have your stock system collapse has to be worrying, even if it occurred only as a consequence of a "special" event.

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