IKEA: Our totalitarian present



IKEA combines two things that when combined are simply odious. First: the architecture of the stores compel the shopper to snake  his was way through in a fully determined way from the moment he picks up his shopping cart to the final tally at the check out: first kitchen, then baths, then office and so forth, as a sheep going through the sheep-dip. One feels a total lack of control over one’s shopping experience. It is a one-way street through the cornucopia of cheap goods assembled from the poorer parts of the globe.

Second, while thoroughly capitalist, in the sense described above, the shopper is  confronted with self-congratulatory moral superiority from one end of the store to the other: from the garbage bins (sorry, I should say recycling) at the doors to puffery in signs announcing low-carbon this and ecologically sensitive that. And the Swedish self-congratulation smirks from every sign. “Hey! look at us: look at how kid-friendly we are, marvel at our sensible this and admire us for our no-nonsense return policy, and while you are here, sample our Swedish smoked herring and fried moose testicles at the cafeteria”.

Even the Wikipedia article seems to have swallowed the Kool-aid:

Older IKEA stores are usually blue buildings with yellow accents (also Sweden’s national colours) and few windows. They are often designed in a one-way layout, leading customers counter clockwise along what IKEA calls “the long natural way” designed to encourage the customer to see the store in its entirety (as opposed to a traditional retail store, which allows a customer to go directly to the section where the desired goods and services are displayed). There are often shortcuts to other parts of the showroom.

“The long natural way” is Ikeanese for doing exactly what the store architecture compels you to do. IKEA just can’t help but talk in self-congratulatory cant.

We have all spent much money at Ikea and learned to our frustration that, if Ikea can save money by drilling only one hole,when by drilling two the customer would find it easier to assemble the product, Ikea will cause its manufacturers to drill only one. It is as cheap and capitalist as Wallmart, but it has successfully occupied the commanding heights of virtue-signalling.

It is like eating at McDonald’s while the store reminds you that you are actually in a Michelin-rated restaurant.

And this attitude of being fully capitalist while pretending to be virtuous goes all the way to the top, if the corporate structure is anything to go by. I cite the Wikipedia article again:


IKEA is owned and operated by a complicated array of not-for-profit and for-profit corporations. The corporate structure is divided into two main parts: operations and franchising. Most of IKEA’s operations, including the management of the majority of its stores, the design and manufacture of its furniture, and purchasing and supply functions are overseen by INGKA Holding, a private, for-profit Dutch company. Of the IKEA stores in 43 countries, 303 are run by the INGKA Holding. The remaining 47 stores are run by franchisees outside of the INGKA Holding, with the exception of IKEA Delft which is not franchised.[83]

INGKA Holding is not an independent company, but is wholly owned by the Stichting INGKA Foundation, which Kamprad established in 1982 in the Netherlands as a tax-exempt, not-for-profit foundation. The INGKA Foundation is controlled by a five-member executive committee that is chaired by Kamprad and includes his wife and attorney.[84]

While most IKEA stores operate under the direct purview of INGKA Holding and the INGKA Foundation, the IKEA trademark and concept is owned by an entirely separate Dutch company Inter IKEA Systems, headquartered in Delft.[85] Every IKEA store, including those run by INGKA Holding, pays a franchise fee of 3% of revenue to Inter IKEA Systems. The ownership of Inter IKEA Systems is exceedingly complicated and not publicly known. Inter IKEA Systems is owned by Inter IKEA Holding, a company registered in Luxembourg. Inter IKEA Holding, in turn, belongs to an identically named company in the former Netherlands Antilles that is run by a trust company based in Curaçao.[84] In 2009 the company in Curaçao was liquidated and the company responsible for this liquidation traces back to the Interogo Foundation in Liechtenstein.[86] Ingvar Kamprad has confirmed that this foundation owns Inter IKEA Holding S.A. in Luxembourg and is controlled by the Kamprad family.[87] The IKEA food concessions that operate in IKEA stores are still directly owned by the Kamprad family and represent a major part of the family’s income.

I recommend that you read the Wikipedia article. The INGKA Foundations’s  not-for-profit status ensures that much of IKEA’s profits are untaxed. As you would expect. By contrast, the Waltons of Wall-Mart fame simply sell you stuff cheaply, and there is none of the smug moral posturing of IKEA.  Ingvar Kamprad’s INGKA Foundation has greater assets than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but gives away far less money.

To be clear, capitalism is good. But IKEA is selling  much more than cheap goods; it is selling to its clients a false moral posture, in the reflection of which the consumer is invited to bask.

Makes me ill to be there too long.