IKEA: The Truth Behind their Discounted Products

October 10th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Several years ago, a group of friends raved about IKEA.  At that time, I never shopped there.  They said it’s THE place to shop for college dorm and also for great stylish furniture at incredible deals.  Moreover, they said it’s a Swedish store and so, I thought since it’s perhaps not a ‘Made-in-China’ store, I ought to check it out.  A few months later, because I needed a new desk, I made a trip to the 366,000 square feet store in midtown Atlanta, near where I used to live.  I found a desk.  I picked up a piece of paper to take to the cashier to pay and to pick up the desk.  Then, I went to an enormous area that looked like a warehouse.  After taking some moments to search, I picked up a heavy brown box that was rather flat than voluminous.   This was a sign that it was my job to put the desk together at home.

The adventure of putting together the desk was not smooth sail ride.  The instructions were impossible to understand.  The placement of where the parts belonged was not clear.  Even trying to attach the pieces together was a nightmare.  After several hours of my mother and I putting it together, we finally had a fully-built desk that was a worthwhile use until this summer when the movers broke the desk on the move from from Atlanta to Boston.

While studying in France, I brought a few frames from IKEA in Marseilles for a student art show.  Putting artwork inside IKEA’s frames was a nightmare.  My fingers got cut from trying to open the aluminum release bands.  It was extremely difficult to place the wooden backing back in the frame as it appeared to be bigger than it could fit in the frame.  When I was cleaning the glass gently, the glass cracked.

I could go on more with stores about my experiences in shopping at IKEA.  Because of my unstoppable bad experiences, I knew there was something fishy about IKEA because of company’s lack of efforts to provide their consumers with good experiences in assembling products and products that should be made with good craftsmanship.

IKEA products are not made in Sweden in spite of proudly calling themselves the ‘Swedish store.’  In fact, IKEA is just a RETAILER not a maker of furniture.  Woods come from forests of eastern Europe and far east Russia where woods are often illegally cut, as they are cut in restricted and conservation areas.  Then woods are exported to China and Vietnam where workers are paid at minimum wage, according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: High Cost of Discount Culture, to manufacture the products in low quality.  Factories in Vietnam pay workers as little as $50 a month for working 48 hours, six days each week while IKEA’s suppliers have been instructed to follow IKEA’s environmental and human rights regulations and IKEA has hired a Yale-educated woman to be a forestry coordinator to overseas the suppliers for wood.  Then, all the finished products are shipped to 270+ stores across the globe, hence the reason why products come in disassembled so that as many products as possible can fit in the cargo, which is actually a good thing as it’s cost saving for businesses and also saving number of ships and usage of fuel.

On top of that, many of the products are made from pine wood pocketed with ‘healthy knots’ according to Shell.  Pine is actually not the wisest to choice of material as it’s softwood.  Softwood with knots, even ‘healthy knots’ have the tendency to break and splint easily under pressure and stress.  Just imagine sitting on a chair made by that material!

Shell nails her thoughts on IKEA and other discount stores as the fact their products are considered disposable and meant to ‘fall-apart‘:

“In the world of Cheap, “design” has become a stand-in for quality.  Companies such as Target, H&M, and Zara offer consumers the look they love at a price they can live with – but at what true cost?  In Sweden we visit IKEA, the global furniture retailer made famous and fabulously successful by a scheme of designing not just for low price but to low price.  The consequence of this are both obvious and subtle.  IKEA makes furniture available to all at alow price, which means college students, young couples, and others on a budget can furnish their homes in style.  But IKEA does not overly concern itself with what Homer Simpson calls “fall-apart.”  The company designs for easy construction, uniformity, cheap production, and transportability around the globe.  Ultimately, what it markets is disposable, with everything that implies.  The genius of IKEA and other cheap-chic purveyors is that they have made fashionable, desirable, and even lovable objects nearly devoid of craftsmanship.  The environmental and social implications of this are insidious and alarming.”

At last, while IKEA likes to toot that they’re environmentally conservative, they’re really not, according to Shell:

“…the traffic jams surrounding IKEA stores are so gnarly that customers are discouraged from shopping on weekends when lines of idling cars can back up for miles.  IKEA touts its ‘green side’ by lighting its stores with low-wattage bulbs and charging extra for plastic bags while its clientele burns through gallon after gallon of fuel to buy disposable tables and lamps.”

I love how Shell uses the adjective, disposable, to describe IKEA’s products.  It’s so true!

You can read more details about IKEA in Shell’s book, in Chapter Six: Death of a Craftsman, which is available for purchase on Amazon.com .

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