this is part of as days pass by, by Stuart Langridge

Off I go to IKEA. And one of the first things you notice about IKEA is how cheap their prices are. And then there's the signs saying "Hey! Know why our prices are cheap? Because we don't employ loads of people to stand around waiting for you to ask them questions!" I can understand that. The whole "warehouse" model of shopping is popular for all the savings it can pass along to customers like me. I like that sort of thing.

However.

IKEA make a big deal of saying "You don't need those sales staff anyway; all the information you need is on the ticket attached to the item." On a sign repeated about every forty yards once you're inside the store. So, no problem. If you look at a ticket, they're not kidding either; it tells you the item name and price, size, where it is to be found in the warehouse, how to clean and treat it, and much other information. This is also good stuff.

That is, if you can find a ticket.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but if you intend to replace your sales staff with tickets, wouldn't it be something of a priority to make sure that items have tickets attached to them? Perhaps I'm missing a fundamental point about Scandinavian business methods here. But I looked at dozens of things in that store, and virtually none of them had tickets. So what that means is that you have to chase down a salesperson (remember, there aren't many of them, as the signs that you see on your quest will mockingly remind you) to ask them whether the item needs to be booked for collection or where you should pick it up in the warehouse.

So, you go through IKEA and choose various items, having had to query sales staff for about half of them, and it's already 9.30pm. Well, OK, no problem. Much like the A-Team, their staff are very helpful. When you can find them. Collected everything from the warehouse, and into the queue, with two trolleys of stuff.

And when you give your card in to pay, the woman says, oh, you need to be subjected to a credit check. I thought, hm. Now, ordinarily, I'd be worried here. I'm not sufficiently in touch with the karmic ebb and flow of my finances to know precisely how much money I have, so I'll twitch when someone queries whether there's enough money in my account to pay a bill. However, today, I knew damned well that I had more than enough money; a cheque cleared, and it gave me well over what I was spending, and I'd checked that that was the case before I went shopping. I tried to explain this. "Oh, it must just be a random check," was the response. Very well, I thought: I'll wait a little.

The woman behind the counter phones a number, and reads my card details down the phone to whatever call centre monkey is on the other end. Then she sits on hold while they play music to her. For ten minutes. And then she says, they need to know your date of birth and postcode. I tell her. She tells them. Another five minutes of holding. And finally I'm allowed to spend my money in their shop.

Of course, everyone in the queue behind me is very restless at this point. I can see their point. When did anyone in a queue ever get their card queried because there was too much money on it, huh? So now five people think that I can't afford to go shopping, or that I'm a credit-card fraudster. I'm in a fabulous mood by this point, and it's ten to ten. Only one stage to go. Pick up the items that are collected by their staff from the Secret Warehouse. Now, those of you who don't shop at IKEA might not know about this. The way it works is, there are three ways of getting the stuff you want. Some stuff is distributed around the shop; you pick it up on your way round and pay at the till, like a normal shop. Other stuff is in the self-service warehouse; you note the location details on the ticket attached to the item (ha!) and then you pick it up from the warehouse yourself before going to the till and paying for it. A third type of item is a "red ticket" item; you find a salesdroid and tell them you want to buy it; the salesdroid punches the details into a computer on the shop floor, and then you get a printout. At the till, you show the printout and pay the money, and then get to sit and wait while their warehouse guys go into the Secret IKEA warehouse and get it for you. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some stuff is self-service and some isn't; it's not done on size, or price, or material of manufacturer. It's random. Anyway, as you may recall, it's ten to ten, and I have to wait for five or six items to be picked by the warehouse muppet. Note that they don't even step into their warehouse to look for your stuff until you turn up at their desk and show them the printout that you've already showed at the till, and paid for. Call me dim, but it seems to me that this process could be a little more efficient. Argos manage it OK. So, I show the printout. And the muppet goes away to get the stuff. I wait.

And wait.

You can guess what I did after waiting.

After that, I wait even more.

Finally -- it's 10pm, and the shop is closing; all the tills are shut down -- the muppet comes back with my stuff. Well, not quite. Mostly my stuff. Some stuff that I didn't order, and not some stuff that I did order. I point this out, quite calmly given their sterling performance of customer service underachievement thus far this evening. Humming and hawing ensues. Eventually, they fetch someone else. This someone else, after five minutes of discussion, tells me that she has to credit my card with the amount of money that the incorrect items cost, and then I can buy the items that I really did want (and, I might add, have asked for already and not been given). I proffer my card without killing her. Another five minutes passes while she carefully credits my card with the money for the erroneous items. Then she reveals that she will have to go and book the items out of the warehouse, which has to be done from a different terminal, and promptly evaporates to do so.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Fume. Fume. Fume.

She reappears and graciously gives me the opportunity to buy the stuff that I have already tried to buy once. And, get this -- the amount of money is the same for each! They neatly removed a sum of money from my card for the wrong items, then put it back as a refund, then took away the same amount again! All this took half an hour! At quarter past ten at night!

I feel that IKEA need to revisit their promises of customer service. Customer disservice might be a more accurate picture.

© Aquarius, February 2002