It has now been more than twenty years since the homeware and furniture retailer IKEA opened its first store in the UK. Since then, the company is thought to have had a substantial impact on British consumers’ perceptions and attitudes towards affordable homeware items.
In a thesis published at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, a PhD student in Human Geography, Frida Andersson, develops a possible understanding of what this impact may involve. She does so, not by presenting a comprehensive account of IKEA as a retail phenomenon, but by focusing on specific aspects of the experience of shopping at IKEA. With reference to a performative perspective on economic exchange and using empirical observations and interviews gathered around the IKEA store in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, Andersson describes how IKEA’s offer, which is based on a principle of co-production, becomes performed as part of a specific shopping experience. “The question is not whether IKEA’s offer is profitable or not for the consumers but whether the consumers perceive it to be logical and believable – if it makes sense. The focus is, in other words, turned towards the construction of this perception, and in that context the shopping experience appears to be of vital importance. When people go shopping at IKEA, the principle of co-production becomes transformed from an abstract economic logic to a lived and embodied experience.”
After having described the shopping experience from the entrance to the checkout of the store, the thesis also enters the home and links the logic of shopping at IKEA to specific processes of home making. In particular, it offers some examples of how the IKEA products enable an immediate, temporary and mobile constitution of home.
Andersson presents the thesis in Sweden but has lived and worked in Tyne and Wear for the past three years. She hopes that the research will make both researchers and consumers more interested in how economic decision making can be linked to processes of social and cultural change and less focused on making the “best buy”.