After Bill and I took a long walk with our dogs today, I decided I really wanted to purchase some things to make our new home more homey. I asked him if he wanted to go to IKEA. If I recall correctly, we had only been to the IKEA in Sindelfingen once or twice last time we were here. I remembered it was a hellish experience because it was extremely packed with people. Also, I’m not generally a big fan of IKEA products. I know they’re cheap and functional, but they aren’t really my style. We went to the one in Northern Virginia once or twice and it was equally obnoxious and I didn’t like going there because it meant that later we’d be putting together furniture, one of my least favorite activities.
Nevertheless, I wanted to buy rugs and drapes and maybe a few things to help dampen the noise in our very echoey new home. We went to IKEA and proceeded to have a very frustrating, irritating, and ultimately unsatisfying shopping experience. In fact, I was so annoyed by the end of our trip there that I declared IKEA another entry to my retail store shit list. It now joins Wal-Mart and several chain restaurants as a store I don’t care to spend money at ever again.
Perhaps I should have taken this overflowing ashtray as an omen…
The first part of our shopping venture was not entirely pleasant, but compared to the rest of it, it was quite successful. I was hungry when we walked into the store after driving up the spiral drive to the parking lot. I knew that if I didn’t eat something, I’d likely get very crabby and impatient. Based on the crowds at IKEA today, I knew I’d eventually become bitchy anyway… but I wanted to forestall that for as long as possible. For the first time ever, Bill and I stopped by the cafeteria at IKEA and had lunch. After standing in a crowded queue and pushing through the cashier line, we both had Swedish meatballs with fries and lingonberry sauce and washed our lunches down with IKEA beer.
This lager was not bad at all, especially for 1.90 euros.
Bill enjoyed the dark version. I think I liked it better, too.
Lunch was pretty good and kind of entertaining, as I watched people use their coffee cups (50 cents) to get soda (1 euro) and free refills. Once we were appropriately fueled, we started looking for the “start”. You know, when you go to IKEA, there’s a path you follow as it takes you through the showroom. Bill went to find a buggy, but it turns out you don’t really need one until you get to the first floor, which is where the warehouse and cashiers are. You’re supposed to mark down the things you like as you walk through the showroom and then pick them up right before you go to the cash register. There are a few things you can pick up in the showroom, but by and large, you don’t need anything more than a big yellow bag that they provide for that. If you like the bag, they’ll let you buy it.
Let me just say right off the bat, I was not too impressed by how this store looked. Everything was in disarray and had been well picked over by the masses. I guess when a store is as crowded as IKEA is on the weekend, it kind of stands to reason that it’s going to look shitty. By the time an associate is done straightening up the mess, someone else comes through and messes it up again. I’ve been there and done that when I worked retail years ago and I know how it goes. But it didn’t look like the IKEA staff members were doing much to keep things looking neat and tidy or well stocked.
After about two stressful hours trying to figure things out, trying to find things creatively reshelved by people, and dodging the aggressive crowds, we ended up with a cart full of “essentials”. Bill had been warned that IKEA doesn’t take American credit cards, which we took to mean the ones with magnetic strips. While that’s annoying, it’s not something we aren’t used to. Bill had gotten a new card with a chip in it, though he did not take my advice and start an account with a German bank. Instead, he opened an account at the Community Bank on post, which gave him a Visa debit card with a chip and pin instead of a strip.
Bill approached the customer service desk to ask about the VAT form, which would allow us to get the tax back on our purchase. We were told to pay first. We got in a long line, where the masses pushed us forward in an inexorable advance toward getting the hell out of the madhouse. Then, once we unloaded almost 500 euros worth of the cheap IKEA crap we’d selected, Bill was informed that none of his cards work at IKEA. They take cash or an EC card, which is a European debit card. Again, had he listened to me and gotten a German bank account, he probably would have had an EC card. But he didn’t, so the cashier sent him to the ATM to get enough cash to cover the bill. Off Bill went… leaving me to wait with the big load of stuff I’d collected during our very stressful shopping trip.
Several long minutes later, he came back to tell me that the ATM machine also would not accept any of his cards. He talked to the customer service guy again, who said the machines usually didn’t reject American cards. So Bill tried and failed again, even though there was plenty of money in the account to handle the amount he was requesting. We ended up leaving the store very pissed off and empty-handed. To make matters worse, the elevators don’t have call buttons, so you end up standing around, waiting for the doors to open. We were confused by that, as were quite a few locals. After waiting for several minutes to get the appropriate elevator to the parking lot, we finally gave up and took the stairs. My back hurt; I was feeling very grumpy and exasperated; and I just wanted to get the fuck out of there ASAP.
Last time we were at IKEA, it was at the same store in Sindelfingen and we paid in cash. This time, Bill wanted to use a card because he wasn’t sure how much cash we’d need. I’m not sure why IKEA is so hard nosed about credit cards, especially since we have used them in American IKEA stores and it is a big, international company. Maybe they don’t want to have to pay the fees associated with Master Card or Visa because it will affect their bottom line. And that’s fine. All I know is that they could have sold us about 500 euros worth of stuff today. Now they will be selling us nothing, because I refuse to go back to IKEA. I will do my shopping at stores that are prepared to handle payment with less hassle and offer a shopping experience that doesn’t make me need blood pressure meds or Valium.
Incidentally, as soon as we got back home, I went to Amazon.de and ordered three major appliances that I could have bought from IKEA had they not been such a huge pain in my ass today. I’m pretty disgusted, but fortunately there are plenty of other places to spend money in Germany.