Most shopping trips are just errands. But a trip to Ikea is an adventure.
This Swedish chain is best known for its modern, budget-friendly furniture, but that’s far from all it has to offer. Each vast store has a ton of things to see and do, from the model apartments that implausibly cram everything into 400 square feet to the fascinating array of delicacies in the Swedish Food Market. Many people set aside a whole afternoon for a trip to take it all in.
But for some people, these giant stores are more intimidating than exciting. If a trip to Ikea makes you feel lost and adrift in a sea of sofas, what you need to get you back on solid ground is a little planning.
Ikea Shopping Tips and Tricks to Save Money
Preparing before your trip and shopping strategically can help you save money, save time, and take advantage of all Ikea has to offer.
What to Do Before Your Trip
Getting the most out of your trip to Ikea starts before you leave home. There’s a lot of preparation you can do ahead to ensure you know what to look for when you arrive. Doing your homework helps you choose the right Ikea items for your needs and get them home easily.
1. Consult the Catalog
The first place to look for inspiration when planning your trip is the Ikea catalog. Unlike most catalogs, this one isn’t junk mail. It’s a thick, glossy book filled with descriptions and beautiful pictures showing you how Ikea furniture looks and functions in real rooms. If you don’t have a printed copy, you can view it online or listen in audiobook form on Spotify, Audiobooks.com, or YouTube.
But before you fall head over heels for a picture in the catalog, do a reality check. Ikea furniture quality can be hit and miss, so look at reviews for the pieces on Ikea.com to ensure it’s one of the products worth buying at Ikea. The website also indicates whether the merchandise is in stock to prevent you from wasting a trip for something your local store doesn’t have.
2. Make a Shopping List
If you’re looking for specific Ikea products you’ve seen in the catalog or on the website, make a list before you go. That makes it easy to remember what you want and the specific product names you have in mind.
Ikea’s website has a favorites list feature to make creating your list more manageable. First, create an account on Ikea.com or in the Ikea Store App. Then just click the heart icon in the listing for any product to add it to your list.
When you pull up your list, it shows all the item numbers and details for your selected merchandise. It also lists all their prices and totals them to help you stick to your personal budget. And if you click “buy in store” and select your local Ikea, it shows the locations as well, so you can find your chosen goods easily.
3. Check on Amazon
Depending on what you want, it’s possible to avoid trekking to your local store at all. Many Ikea items are available from third-party sellers on Amazon. And if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you even get free shipping.
The catch is that Ikea products often cost much more on Amazon than in the store or on Ikea.com. For instance, Ikea’s Frakta shopping bag, just $1 in the store, costs almost $5 on Amazon. So before making a purchase, compare the prices (with shipping included) to ensure the fast delivery is worth the extra cost.
Alternatively, opt for the middle ground: Ikea’s Click & Collect service. You can place an order online, drive to the store, and find your order ready and waiting for pickup. It’s cheaper and faster than having your goods delivered, but it still lets you avoid the crowds and checkout lines.
4. Measure Your Space
If you’re buying a large furniture piece, measure your space beforehand so you know exactly how big an item you can accommodate. Then, when you get to the store, measure the products themselves — or check the dimensions on the tags — to ensure they’ll fit.
Of course, a set of measurements doesn’t tell you how a piece will look in your space. Fortunately, there’s an app for that. With the Ikea Place app, you can upload a picture of your room, then visually insert a three-dimensional image of an Ikea product in the space. Models are true to scale, allowing you to see just how your potential purchase will fit in with its new surroundings.
5. Download Your Inspiration Photos
Speaking of photos, don’t count on being able to access your online photo collection while you’re in the store. According to Real Simple (and anyone who’s ever been to Ikea), Ikea’s massive warehouses usually have “slim to zero cell reception.”
So if you have an online mood board or Pinterest page you’re relying on for inspiration, download it while you still have Internet access. Then, when you’re facing a vast array of chairs or cabinets, you can pull up your photos to see which pieces align with your vision.
6. Sign Up for Ikea Family
Before you hit the store, sign up for Ikea’s loyalty program, known as Ikea Family. Though the name seems to imply this program is for families with kids, it actually means you’re part of the store’s “family,” and as such, you’re entitled to special deals.
Your Ikea Family card comes with a variety of perks:
- Special discounts on specific Ikea products each month
- A free coffee or tea per trip at the Ikea restaurant
- A chance to win a $100 Ikea gift card on each trip to the store just by scanning your card at the checkout or at an in-store kiosk
- Access to emails that provide rewards, inspiration, and a surprise on your birthday
- Free in-store events that provide home furnishing ideas, tips, and skills
- 90-day price protection on all your product purchases when you scan your Ikea Family card at checkout
- Extra play time for your kids at Smaland
You can join Ikea Family for free either online or at an in-store kiosk.
7. Use the Ikea Moving Program
Ikea is a go-to store for anyone moving to a new home. To help these customers, Ikea offers a New Mover program that provides tips, ideas, and (most valuable of all) a coupon for $25 off on your next purchase of $250 or more. (This discount applies only in stores, not on Ikea.com.)
8. Choose the Right Day to Shop
Like most stores, Ikea is busiest on the weekend. But “busy” at most stores just means slightly more crowded than usual. At Ikea, it looks more like sheer pandemonium. The aisles are so packed with shoppers and bulky carts you can practically get swept up in the crowd and carried right past your destination.
To explore Ikea under less hectic conditions, schedule your trip for a weekday. According to Fox News, shoppers and employees generally agree the store is least busy on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, particularly around half an hour after opening.
If you must schedule your trip on a weekend, aim to arrive around 6pm. Many weekend shoppers clear out of the store right before dinnertime.
9. Empty the Trunk of Your Car and Stock Up Your Glove Box
Most Ikea furniture doesn’t come fully assembled. Instead, the various pieces are packed in flat packages that you can haul home in the trunk of your car. If you have more than one vehicle, take the largest one so you can fit bigger packages into it.
To make room for as many home furnishing purchases as possible, clear all the unnecessary junk from your car trunk before heading for the store. Don’t remove the jack or the spare tire, but pull out all the extra shopping bags and assorted clutter. The only thing you should leave in your trunk besides the spare and jack are your previously purchased Frakta shopping bags.
And if you’re picking up something particular, find out the size of each package to ensure it will fill in your vehicle. On the product’s information page, scroll down below the images and description, and click “Product details.” A sidebar will pop up. Scroll down and click “Packaging,” which tells you the number of packages each piece comes with and the box dimensions.
What to Do When You Arrive
No matter how well you’ve prepared for your Ikea trip, walking through the doors into that vast showroom can feel a bit overwhelming. There are so many people and so much furniture as far as the eye can see. To find what you’re looking for, you need to work systematically — starting at the front and taking the store section by section.
10. Pick Up Supplies
IKEA stores are so enormous you almost feel like you need a map just to find your way around. Fortunately, the store provides one. Near the entrance, there’s a bin full of paper maps that show the store’s layout.
On the back, there’s a handy to-buy list you can fill in with names and item numbers of products. You use it to jot down the item numbers of products in the showroom, enabling you to stop by self-serve on the way out to grab all the boxes you need.
Often, you can find other useful items available near the entrance as well. Unfortunately, some stores have stopped providing them during the coronavirus pandemic, but during normal times you can expect to find:
- Pencils for filling out your shopping list
- Paper tape measures to check product dimensions before you buy
- Giant shopping bags. (This store-provided bag is basically a bright yellow version of the blue Frakta bag. You don’t get to keep it, but for a buck, you can pick up a Frakta near the checkout for use on future trips to Ikea and pretty much anywhere else you shop.)
- Copies of the Ikea catalog
11. Examine the Layout
Each Ikea store has four primary zones:
- Showroom. This area, usually located on the top level if the store has multiple floors, is where Ikea displays all its furniture pieces fully assembled. Home furnishings are grouped by room, such as living room, bedroom, and office. In addition to displaying collections of couches and tables, Ikea provides model rooms and even entire apartments to show how its furniture pieces work together.
- Marketplace. This section is where you can find smaller decor items, such as pillows, rugs, dishes, lighting fixtures, and window treatments. Shelves and bins are piled high with goodies you can just grab and toss into your cart.
- Self-Serve. In this area, you can pick up all the big furniture items on your shopping list neatly packed in their flat-box forms. Everything in the showroom bears a tag explaining where to locate it in the self-serve area to help you find your boxes easily.
- Checkout. Finally, there’s a large bank of checkout aisles where you pay for your purchases. Be prepared to spend a bit of time there, as lines can be quite long, even at the least busy times.
Each Ikea store has these sections in different locations and organized in different ways. To figure out where you’re going, take a moment before setting out to familiarize yourself with your local store’s layout. Also note the locations of key areas like the restrooms and cafes so you can find them quickly when you need them.
As you browse the layout, make note of shortcuts. Typically, the showroom and marketplace are laid out along a long, bending path that takes you through every section to prevent you from missing anything. But if you prefer to skip the sections you don’t need to shop, you can take shortcuts that cut off part of this path. These are marked on the map and with signs in the store.
12. Visit the Play Area
If you have kids with you, Ikea will look after them while you shop at no charge. Just drop them off at the store’s supervised play area, known as Smaland. In most stores, kids can spend up to an hour in this area, but Ikea Family members get an extra half hour. The store gives you a buzzer when you drop off your kids to let you know when to return and pick them up.
Unfortunately, Smaland isn’t open right now. As of July 2021, all Ikea stores have closed the play area as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. Even in normal times, the number of kids who can be in Smaland at a given time depends on the store. Like Ikea itself, Smaland is most likely to be crowded on weekends and at midday.
13. Check Out the As-Is Room
If you’re looking for bargains, your first stop at Ikea should be the as-is section. It’s usually located between the last aisles of the self-serve section and the checkout. This room is crammed with damaged goods that are steeply marked down from their original prices. Ikea product placement specialist Christine Soner tells Apartment Therapy the discounts range from 30% to 60%.
The condition of as-is products varies. Some have severe structural damage, but in other cases, the flaws are only on the surface. You can also find slightly worn floor samples and even discontinued or returned goods in perfectly good shape. So it’s always worth checking before buying a large piece to see if you can find a minimally damaged version for less.
The deals available in the as-is room vary based on when you shop. You can usually find the most extensive selection on Mondays, as most people who want to make returns do it over the weekend. You can also find good deals in June and July, when Ikea marks down discontinued products before releasing its new catalog in August.
14. Consult the Tags
Another way to find the lowest prices is to look for bright yellow tags that say, “last chance!” These indicate discontinued merchandise Ikea’s selling at discounted prices. Ikea spokesperson Janice Simonsen, speaking with Good Housekeeping, says yellow-tag discounts range from 15% to 50%.
But it’s worth checking out all furniture tags, not just the yellow ones. There’s all kinds of helpful information on them: price, measurements, available colors, and where to pick up the boxes in self-serve. Write down the item number and location (aisle and bin) for anything you want to buy to save time in the self-serve area.
15. Handle the Merchandise
Don’t hesitate to poke, prod, and thoroughly test any merchandise before adding it to your list. You’re encouraged to sit on the chairs, lie down on the beds, open drawers, and examine every inch. That way, you can be confident your new furniture is sturdy and comfortable.
Even during the COVID-19 crisis, Ikea is still allowing that kind of thorough product testing. But to keep other customers safe, they require you to wait your turn and stay 6 feet away from other shoppers looking at the same product. Also, you may have to wear a face mask, depending on local regulations (though Ikea encourages all customers, even vaccinated ones, to do so).
16. Talk to the Employees
If you have any questions about a product, look around for a store employee. They’re usually posted at kiosks throughout the store and are easy to spot in their bright yellow or blue shirts. On my trips to Ikea, I’ve always found them to be knowledgeable and happy to help.
17. Plan Your Ikea Kitchen
If you’re outfitting a kitchen, you can’t just pick up a set of cabinets in the self-serve area. You have to go through the steps of kitchen design and layout first. Ikea offers various kitchen services, including:
- Kitchen Measurement. An Ikea kitchen expert visits your home to take photos and accurate measurements. If you want to use this service, you should do it at least one week before your store visit. There’s a fee for this service, but if you also hire an Ikea installer, you can apply the cost of measurement as a credit toward that service.
- Kitchen Planning. Once you have your measurements, you can consult with an Ikea kitchen planner, either in the store or online. They can provide a three-dimensional layout of your kitchen and a complete list of parts to order. You can then collect what you need in the furniture pickup section near the checkout.
- Kitchen Installation. After you complete the planning process, you get an itemized price quote on installation. Ikea works with a company called Traemand to provide this service. Its installers are licensed and insured, and their work comes with a five-year warranty.
- Ikea Home Planner. If you’d rather design your own kitchen layout, that’s allowed too. Ikea offers free Web-based software called the Ikea Home Planner to make it easy. If you use it, you can get your plan checked out by an Ikea kitchen planner for free to make sure you haven’t made any mistakes.
18. Check Every Department
Ikea offers a lot more than just furniture. While you’re in the store looking for larger pieces, check out all the deals on smaller stuff. For instance, you can find good values here on:
- Candles and candle holders
- Christmas decorations
- Live plants and planters
- Food storage containers
- Specialty foodstuffs such as coffee, frozen Swedish meatballs, and lingonberry preserves
So even if you’re only looking for one or two big pieces, it’s worth checking out the marketplace section. You never know what bargains you can find.
19. Grab a Bite
There’s no denying it’s cheaper to eat in than to dine out. But if you enjoy eating out, the Ikea restaurant is one of the best places to get a good meal on a small budget. There are many lighter choices, such as salads and vegetarian meatballs as well as some splurge-worthy desserts.
The store’s focus on the environment shows in its menu. The coffee is sustainably sourced, the chicken is antibiotic-free, and a few items are organic. Plus, on certain specific dates, Ikea Family members can get the cost of their meal deducted from their bill at the checkout. On these days, your meal isn’t just a good deal — it’s free.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ikea stores closed both the full-service restaurant and the smaller bistro, a takeout stand near the checkout. But some stores have now reopened them with enhanced safety precautions. Check your local store listing on Ikea.com for details.
20. Think Carefully About Delivery
It’s easy to get a little carried away shopping at Ikea. But if you reach the end of your trip and discover you have more stuff than you can fit in your car, you can arrange to have all or part of your purchase delivered for a fee.
But reviewers say the service can have problems. For example, blogger Jill Cataldo reports that the company Ikea used to deliver her new refrigerator damaged both the fridge and her wood floors. So depending on what you’re buying, it might make more sense to rent a truck and haul it home yourself.
What to Do After Your Trip
Your Ikea adventure doesn’t end when you get your goods home. Since most Ikea products require DIY assembly, you still need to put them together before you can enjoy them. That can be a frustrating process, especially if a piece is missing or you can’t decipher the directions. But there are ways to make it easier.
21. Check the Boxes
When you open your Ikea packages, the first thing to do is to check the contents against the packing list included in the box. It shows all the parts you need to assemble the item and how many of each one you should have. If your new furniture is missing one small but crucial screw, it’s better to find out before you start assembling than when you’re halfway through.
If any pieces are missing, there’s no need to trek back to the store. You can call Ikea and have the missing parts sent directly to your home. Just call up your local store and provide the part number, which you can find in the instructions.
22. Call for Help
Rather than provide the same set of assembly instructions in 15 different languages, each one printed in tiny type to fit them all on the page, Ikea uses simple picture-based instructions. They’re usually easy to follow, but occasionally, one of the hieroglyphs is hard to decipher.
If that happens, you can call Ikea customer service for help. Or if you’d rather hand over the job to someone else, you can book an assembly person through Ikea’s partnership with TaskRabbit. But this service is only available in certain areas.
23. Plan for Returns
If you find your product is hopelessly defective or it just doesn’t fit your space as expected, you can return it or exchange it at the store. The Ikea returns department, located near the checkout, works on the take-a-number system. When you arrive, you take a ticket, and you must wait for a representative to call your number.
The line tends to be longest on weekends, when shoppers are most likely to have time off. Do if you want to avoid a long wait at the return desk, schedule your trip for a weekday morning around the time the store opens.
For smaller home goods, you can make your return via FedEx or UPS instead. You have to pay for shipping, but it saves a lot of hassle. Remember to include a return slip and a copy of your receipt in the package. You should get your refund within two weeks after your return arrives at the store.
Some shopping mavens urge you to go straight to the products you want, perhaps even entering through the exit door and skipping the showroom entirely. That way, they explain, you can’t be tempted into impulse buys.
To me, that sounds like a good way to miss out on all the fun. I always treat a trip to Ikea as both a shopping trip and the afternoon’s entertainment. There’s so much to see that I hate to miss out on any part of it.
So instead, when you schedule your trip, allow yourself plenty of time to wander the store. Check out the model rooms, play with the toys, browse the food in the Swedish Food Market. Have fun! Because Ikea isn’t just a store — it’s an experience. You’ll just have to rely on old-fashioned willpower to avoid overbuying.