Jan 6, 2020

The Devil’s Superstore

By Ed Goldman

Satan is alive and has designed the in-store wayfinding system for IKEA.

Authorities say he also may have taken a crack at the following:

a. Suggesting routes on Google maps;

b. Writing the tiny disclaimers on two-page magazine ads for prescription-only medications (“Call your doctor if you never had eczema but wanted to”); and

c. Creating the thesaurus embedded in my computer, which can rarely find synonyms for everyday words. For example, I just looked up eczema and the response was “No results were found.”

But street maps, drug ads and even thesaurusi are small potatoes compared to navigating your way to an exit in IKEA. (I realize it may just be “thesauruses” but I’m following the plural rule for “octopus” and “cactus.”)
Getting out of the store is maddening even if you (can) find a helpful employee who’ll give you directions—which, even spoken aloud, can be as baffling as the store’s silent signage—to some of the facility’s “shortcuts.” These are nondescript doors that open to other showrooms in which you also can become hopelessly lost.
When I had my first IKEA maze experience, I found it sort of amusing, at least for the first 15 minutes. Then I started getting a wee bit sweaty and wondered if I’d found Dante’s missing 10th Circle of Hell. Then I thought I was being recorded for a revival of “Candid Camera,” the weekly show created by the late Allen Funt that first popularized abject human humiliation for Sunday night TV audiences. (TV buffs may note that Ashton Kutcher re-booted—stole—the concept for a show of his own called “Punk’d.”)
Getting out of IKEA is maddening even if you (can) find a helpful employee who’ll give you directions.
I even considered the possibility that without my foreknowledge, I was guest-starring on a newly discovered episode of “The Twilight Zone.” I imagined I heard its cigarette-eating host and creator, Rod Serling, intoning in his ominous baritone, “Submitted for your explication: a man doing nothing more innocent on a Saturday morning than looking for assemble-it-yourself bookshelves. He has parked his car 300 yards from the entrance to what he thinks is a store called IKEA. He doesn’t realize he’s about to cross not an absurdly crowded parking lot but indeed, a figurative Styx River. He will enter a retail realm called…The Twilight Zone.” (Cue the eerie nee-nee-nee-nee/nee-nee-nee-nee theme song.) Then: “And be sure to ask about our famous IKEA Swedish meatballs.”
Look, we all know that in brick-and-mortar retail, we get routed to different areas of a store, and that when we make it to checkout, items to the left and right of us urge us to give into impulse buys: a tabloid newspaper whose top story is the discovery of Brad Pitt’s two-headed lovechild with his Venusian lover; enough choices of breath mints to make a recent arrival from another planet (see above) think our world’s inhabitants suffer from a pernicious but treatable form of halitosis; and, of course, lottery tickets and Fortnight video game paraphernalia.
These may be annoying or ignorable diversions. But at least the stores get you to them. To borrow a phrase from damn near everything you can buy at IKEA (except those namesake meatballs), when it comes to this store’s sense of human and humane design, some assembly is still required.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).