You Pay For Swedes, You Get Turnips

(c) Ikea.co.ukRegular readers will be aware of my evident joy at laying-in to ‘one’ for their dreadful customer service. I enjoy it because, to some extent, it’s easy to poke fun at their efforts. Today is a different story. For years I’ve told anyone who would listen (and several who weren’t interested) that everything Swedish is great: design, usability, lifestyle. Reading back over past blog entries you can even see me spouting off about Ikea.

Up until the weekend I’d only been a drop-in visitor to Ikea and my impressions were favourable. (I should, at this point, clarify that I’m referring to the Ikea store at Lakeside, Thurrock). I’d managed to wander through the showroom, pick-up minor items and – with my brother – select and buy a self-service chest of drawers which he assembled with no problems. This weekend my experiences were wholly different.

I’d had a fraught couple of visits in the proceeding weeks trying to determine what we needed for our new flat in Chelmsford. We made the mistake of going at the busy peak times at the weekend so, for that, I couldn’t blame the store. On Sunday we got there early, early enough to have half an hour of quiet browsing before the tills opened and the crowds began to build. This is where things started to go wrong. I’m going to break this post up into sections because there’s loads to talk about.

:: The Experience vs. Aspiration
Take a look at the catalogue and you’ll see the items in store set up in show-home situations. Generally these seem to be large lofty apartments or grand drawing rooms with acres of space to fill with rack upon rack of storage solutions. Take a typical catalogue page and itemise everything on it, it would costs thousands to re-create those looks and most of the people that visit the Lakeside Ikea are lower middle-class Thames Estuary dwellers with little sense of design. Not a problem in itself of course but it starts to chip away at the aspirational image you hold in your head of your clean, simple, Scandinavian life-styled room. In all honesty it’s more likely that you’ll recreate a Basildon New Build. Secondly, but related to this point, the images and the showrooms in-store show a level of co-ordination and order impossible in the real world. Few people can present an open clothes rail in their bedroom kitted out with just shades of white and brown. This, of course, makes you buy into an idea but feel let down when you get it home and your room doesn’t look the same. It’s hard to take furniture apart, put it back in the package and bring it back (particularly if it only cost you £45 and you live an hour or more away), so people don’t and Ikea keep the money.

:: The Quality & Consistency
Say you wanted to create a co-ordinated look in a bedroom with matching furniture. Ikea would recommend you select a range (in our case Malm) select a colour and away you go. This doesn’t work. One look at the units side by side show that inconsistencies in the production of the product’s veneer mean that one mid brown is generally quite different from another mid brown. You have to select a shade where the colour variations are easier to disguise, in our case Oak veneer. Again, in terms of quality (and I know the place is supposed to be cheap) take a look at a sofa like the Klippan. It looks great in black in the catalogue and on the website. Go in-store and you’ll find the cover fits so loose it looks like a tatty student room day-bed. The furnishing equivalent of the Big Mac reality not matching the photo on the menu board.

:: The Shopping Experience
We wanted to buy a sofa and a bed (amongst other things). We picked up a product sheet for the bed, which ostensibly listed all items we’d need which – I assumed as it wasn’t clear – that we could pick up from the self-service warehouse. For the sofa I assumed this worked the same That is to say we’d locate it in the warehouse and check it through the till before going to the delivery point. Nowhere was I told that this was a ‘full service’ item and that we’d have to arrange the order in the showroom first. I found that out only by the time we’d got down into the warehouse via the showroom maze, requiring my fiancée to scramble back to the upper levels of the showroom to do so. In addition, when scooting around the warehouse on my own looking for the bed I’d discovered that the mattress wasn’t there, so we’d have a bed – which we’d have to pay to get delivered – with no mattress. We’d have to wait for the mattress, come to visit again and pay another £50 for delivery. Likewise, the bedside tables we were after weren’t in stock … and, by the way, it’s no good suggesting a stock-check before you go if you need to go to work out what it is you want! Finally we got everything on the list and checked out through the tills, over £700 lighter …

:: The Delivery/Fulfillment Experience
The delivery was on time, just after 8am today in fact. The deliverymen dropped the sofa but said nothing to my better half (she’d seen it from the window and hoped they’d mention it). They went through the items and we realised we’d bought the wrong colour bed, evidently picking up the wrong parts sheet from the display. Our fault entirely but the delivery guys wouldn’t take it back for us, neither could we arrange for it to be collected. We’d have to hire a van and take it back (another £50) and pay again to have the right one delivered (assuming it’s in stock when we get there) at another £50. To further compound the issue they told us we’d need fixing brackets – which weren’t on the parts list for the bed. Again, it’s down to us to return to the store to collect these (presumably at a cost).

:: The Customer Service Experience
Being new(ish) to the process I’d hoped that Ikea would show some compassion and support us in returning the items and resolving the orders especially given that we’d spent over £700 there (which must be higher than the average customer), but they couldn’t care less. To resolve the issues will require (assuming some stock unavailability) several trips, at least two hire/delivery charges, petrol and hours of travel time. Probably totalling a couple of hundred pounds. Why can’t Ikea assist in any way? Perhaps at least arranging a redundant delivery van (which, after all, must return from deliveries empty on most days) to at least return the stock or allow us to at least hold the correct colour bed to ensure we don’t waste a trip returning to get the item we have actually paid for. I appreciate it’s not their business model to hold items and so on for cost reasons but – on a case-by-case basis - there should be more after care.

:: We’re not in Sweden Anymore
The trouble is the business hasn’t translated like-for-like from Sweden. It’s staffed with bored Essex teenagers and poorly trained customer service staff. As you walk around you begin to think about how basic and cheap it feels not that it’s customer centric, design orientated, stylishly functional and simple. Ikea in the UK has not got the Swedish friendly air about it other than in the marketing copy and catalogue imagery. When the in-store experience fails it fails badly and the fulfilment has seriously dented the brand’s image. So much so that I’m writing this entry.

In Sweden they can process online orders. I bet they could bend over a bit to help me were I to make a couple of novice mistakes like I did here. Just imagine if, when we’d called them today, the Lakeside store had said “fine, sure mistakes happen and seeing as you’re obviously keen on our products [based on the order value] we’ll ask one of our returning delivery vans to collect your items and we’ll hold an Oak coloured Malm bed for you for 48 hours”. I’d have been delighted and I’d be blogging about that instead. It would have cost them probably £50 but increased the likelihood that I’ll spend several hundred pounds in there again by a factor of ten. As it stands I’m more likely to go round the corner from home to Habitat, spend 25% more and be sure to be taken care of.

There were just two good moments on Sunday. One young warehouse lad who dashed off to get a trolley to help the missus with a mattress and a short bearded chap in the sofa team who said he’d raise a query with head office about why the Ektorp sofa had feathers in the fabric version and foam in the leather.

I’m writing to Jens Johansson in his role as manager at Lakeside in the desperate hope that he can inject those Swedish social principles back into his workforce and acknowledge that cheap products really shouldn’t mean shoddy customer care.

Technorati: Ikea + customer service + customer care
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