There’s a magical shopping place called Ikea. But it can quickly become a nightmare of mazes and give you sticker shock at the register unless you know how to shop. I’m a *somewhat* seasoned Ikea shopper, but the closest location to me is nearly 6 hours away, so we either make a trip to Atlanta a few times a year or I go there when traveling. I’ve been to Ikea stores all over the United States from San Diego to Chicago, Orlando to Charlotte, Atlanta to Austin. I’ve been everywhere, man. There are some things I buy for the blog (like pillow covers) and others just for us. I’ve shopped when driving an empty full size truck, as well as my recent trip with three teens, four big suit cases and a small car, so I feel like I have a pretty broad spectrum of Ikea experience to draw from. So here’s my secrets to shopping at Ikea:
1) Make your Ikea shopping list before you leave home.
If you’ve been shopping there before, you know the things you like to stock up on. If you’ve never been before, it’s seriously easy to get overwhelmed at the awesome very quickly. You’ll find TONS of cool, cheap things that you want, but knowing the things you actually need will help keep you focused. Let’s say you need a light fixture – but you really don’t need a rug. But you’ll be tempted because they have awesome rugs for under $20. You can either make your list just with a basic outline (glasses, curtains, etc.) or you can make a detailed wish like at Ikea online and print it out. Of course the world won’t implode if you don’t have a list, but it’s definitely better if you do.
2) Go on the lightest shopping days.
I’ve found in Atlanta that Monday as soon as they open is the very best time to go. Like we are in the parking lot before the doors actually open. Weekends are like shopping in hell – I only go if then if there is no other option. Less stress, you can get through the store faster, it’s easier to find an Ikea associate to help if you need it, and your overall experience is just plain better.
3) Sign up for Ikea Family.
Almost every store under the sun has a loyalty program, and at Ikea it’s called Ikea Family. There’s a ton of benefits, including some special sales that are only good for Ikea Family members. And if you sign up at one store, it’s good at all of them (I signed up in San Diego). You can also get extra time at the the daycare for free. Speaking of daycare….
4) Take advantage of Småland.
Ikea offers a free day care, called Småland. You get one hour of blissful kid-free shopping. If you’re an Ikea Family member, you get an extra half an hour (see, I told you that it was worth signing up for!) There are age requirements and on crowded days you may have to wait, but it’s better than your littles having a meltdown in the middle of the lighting section.
5) Take a photo of the store map on your phone.
They’ll offer you a paper one when you go into the store, but I’ve found that taking photo of the map near the entrance it’s easier. Because I lose the paper map every ding dang time. If you’re trying to beat the Småland time clock, then you’ll want to know the fastest route to get the things on your list.
6) Save time by using the shortcuts.
If you know where you’re going (see the map), then you can zip through the store pretty quickly. If you go the long way around (by following every arrow), it can easily take over an hour just to get through the store (not including check out). If you use shortcuts to bypass areas you don’t need, it will save you quite a bit of time. Or if you forgot something at the end, you can use them to go back and get what you need.
7) Know the best buys.
This list might be different, depending on what you love to purchase – but I ALWAYS buy these things: FJÄDRAR pillow insert is only $5.99 for a 20×20 feather filled insert , pillow covers of all sorts (because I can’t make them as cheap), BUMERANG clothes hangers – $3.99 for 8 sturdy wooden hangers is the cheapest I’ve seen (and it’s the only kind we use at our house), Candles – from pillars to tapers to tea lights – they have the best deals around (but I’d never advocate going just for candles – go to Target instead). Some of the furniture is also a good deal, but if you’re driving a LONG way just to buy it, check Target first – their style, price and quality is fairly comparable.
Although you can get a little slip of paper to write it down, I’ve found that I always mess it up. Taking a photo of the tag on your phone lets you see exactly what you’re looking for. Of course, once you get to the warehouse area it might not be in stock on the shelf – but if you ask nicely then an associate might be able to track one down for you. If it’s truly out of stock, then open up Ikea’s website on your phone and find something comparable. The clothing rack we went for was out of stock, but I found another one that was only $3 more and was a great alternative.
9) The As-Is Secton is a must-see.
If you’re looking for the deal of the century, then the As-Is section is the place to go. It’s usually close to the warehouse area (where you use that red-tag info) and there can be some major deals. I’ve seen couches for as little as $50. Not everything there is a true deal, but if you dig deep you might be surprised. Oh – and another reason to go on Monday…. the As-Is area is the best stocked that day. Most returns happen on the weekend, and most of what is in that area is from returns.
10) Ask yourself THREE times: Do I really need this?
You’ll pick up tons of junk along the path, and a lot of it you probably don’t need. If you know how you’ll use it, when you’ll use it, and where you’ll put it away once you get home, then it’s most likely a good buy. If not, then put it back. By the way, unless you have a huge truck or big van and need to contain your purchases, you probably don’t need the infamous Ikea bags. When we’re in our car we just put the stuff in the cart, then we don’t have bags to deal with and can tuck our purchases around luggage, etc. But do buy the chocolate at the register. That stuff rocks.
Bonus: Ikea Hacks. There are a million things you can do with thinks from Ikea – so pop over to see this great collection at The Cottage Market.