What is it about Ikea that inspires customers to behave badly?
At the furniture and storage company’s flagship mainland China store in Beijing, customers are picnicking, reading newspapers, napping while tucked under the covers, and even urinating, the South China Morning Post recently reported:
Toddlers in split pants play on model furniture with their naked parts coming in contact with all surfaces. On a king-size bed in the middle of the largest showroom, a little boy wakes from a nap next to his (also sleeping) grandmother. When the old woman casually helps the boy urinate into an empty water bottle, dripping liquid liberally on the grey mattress under his feet, most passers-by seem not to mind or even notice.
China’s shoppers, analysts said, seem to like a theme park atmosphere and they appreciate the free air-conditioning. But they’re not the only ones taking advantage of the Swedish company’s largesse.
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During the recession, New Yorkers became so enamored of stores’ free child care that they started bringing their kids by even when they didn’t plan to buy anything. “It’s a very creative way to get a night out and see if you can capture a little social life,” one mother of a two year old told The New York Times.
Those parents stayed in the store at the cafe, but that isn’t always the case. Parents in Germany sometimes left their children at Ikea to “hurry to the hairstylist or the tennis court,” Der Spiegel reported. Other not-quite-customers swapped tips for scoring free food from customer service (pro tip: try complaining about a nonexistent wait).
To take advantage of deep discounts offered during the opening of an Ikea in north London, customers abandoned their cars on a nearby highway and started a near-riot trying to get in.
And in Shanghai, “throngs” of seniors are using Ikea as a dating service, the Wall Street Journal reported, holding weekly meetings of 70 to 700 people and leaving behind “orange peels and egg shells they have picked off boiled eggs brought from home.”
Ikea’s response to these incursions has generally (except in the case of the near-riot) been a tolerant and benign acceptance. When an apparently drunk woman vomited and then passed out in a bed at an Ikea in Israel, the company issued a statement saying a customer had “felt unwell” and the company “permitted her to rest until she felt better” and wished her “the best of health.”
As Ikea executives have often said, getting bodies in the door means increasing sales, if not today, then down the line—a philosophy borne out by the company’s profits, which hit a record in 2012—despite incontinent toddlers, childcare freeloaders, free-food scammers, and thrifty, lovelorn seniors.