Ikea Shopping Hacks
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

18 Secrets and Hacks for Shopping at Ikea

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Ikea Shopping Hacks
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

Know Before You Go

If you've seen one big-box store you've seen them all, right? Not when it comes to Ikea. As any seasoned Ikea shopper will tell you, a trip to the Swedish furniture retailer's massive blue stores demands some planning, especially for newbies. This goes far beyond what's a good buy and what's not to when to shop, how to navigate the mazelike aisles, and how best to get your haul home. Read on for our tips on becoming an Ikea pro (which are a little different because of COVID-19).

Related: Delicious Foods Worth Buying at Ikea — and Some to Skip

Avoid the Weekends
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

Avoid the Weekends

Ikea has only about 50 stores across the United States, so it remains a regional draw for many. Add the normal surge of customers who have little time during the week to shop, and weekends can get very busy. If you'd love to explore the flat-packed wonderland without stepping on others' toes, Redditors recommend midweek shopping — namely, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Late summer can also be a bear as college kids comb the store for dorm-room and apartment supplies, so even this year you should plan accordingly. 

Related: How to Create a Home Office From Ikea Under $200

Try Out 'Click and Collect'
Tomsmith585/istockphoto
Strategic Store Layouts
artran/istockphoto

Check Stock Before Shopping

Products fly off the shelves at Ikea, and there's nothing worse than making the trip only to discover what you had your eye on is out of stock. Avoid disappointment by checking stock levels online before you head to the store — each product lets you see if the item you want is available at any store you select.

Related: Vintage Ikea Furniture Pieces That Resell for Serious Money

Smaland
Erin N./Yelp

Use the Free Child Care (In Normal Times, Anyway)

In normal times — when coronavirus doesn't close them — Smaland, Ikea's free kid's play area, is heaven-sent for parents who dread dragging their kids through a massive store. So long as kids are between 37 and 54 inches tall and potty-trained. Smaland employees will take the kids off your hands and give you a buzzer telling you when to return (usually after an hour, but this may vary by store). The number of kids Smaland takes depends on staffing; when they reopen, keep in mind it's smart to go early or on a weekday to lessen the chances it will be full.

Pay Attention to the Tags
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Pay Attention to the Tags

See something you like in the upstairs showroom? The price tag has all the essential information. It will tell you whether other colors are available, measurements, and most importantly, where to pick up your item. Always note the eight-digit item number, aisle number, and location number before you stroll away. The latter two numbers tell you exactly where you need to go in the self pickup area, and the item number tells you whether that ubiquitous flat box you'll be schlepping onto your cart is the right one.

Bring Your Own Bags
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Bring Your Own Bags

While you won't need bags for those enormous flat-packed boxes, they're still handy to have for small items you snag in the bottom-floor marketplace. Unless you want to pay for Ikea's enormous, iconic blue Frakta bags (worth doing at least once — they're actually pretty awesome, customers rave) bring your own reusable totes. Also: Ikea doesn't offer store measuring tapes during coronavirus concerns, and employees don't always have their own or the time to measure for you. Bring one from home.   

Related: The 35 Best Finds at Ikea

Find the Shortcuts …
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Find the Shortcuts …

Ikea is infamous for its mazelike showroom and marketplace floors that encourage lingering — and, of course, more spending. But if you're on a mission to grab just a few things, you should look for "shortcuts," listed on blue signs with arrows throughout the showroom. Store maps also show these. They can save you quite a bit of walking (and, potentially, impulse buying) if you know you don't need anything between point A and point B.

… Or Enter Through the Exit
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… Or Enter Through the Exit

While Ikea does its very best to funnel you through the store in a certain way, you can rebel by entering through the exit doors and making a beeline for the self-serve warehouse where you can pick up most large items. If you know exactly what you need and look up its location in advance, you'll save a ton of time by skipping a long trip through the showroom and marketplace. 

Related: I Shopped at Ikea for the First Time and Here's What Happened

Ikea meatballs and semla
Ikea meatballs and semla by Magnus D (CC BY)

Join Ikea Family

Its name makes it sound like it might only be for parents with kids, but that's not the case at all. Ikea Family is a loyalty program for everyone, and it's free to join. Once you're signed up, benefits include members-only price breaks on items throughout the year, free coffee or tea in the restaurant (when it's open), extra time for the kids to play at Smaland (also when it's open), workshops, and 90-day price protection that means you can get a refund for the difference if a product you recently bought goes on sale.

Get a Discount for Moving
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Get a Discount for Moving

Ikea knows it's a destination for many people trying to outfit a new place on a budget, so it sweetens the deal by offering a $25 discount on an in-store purchase of $250 or more. You'll need to sign up for the "New Mover" program online to snag the discount. Organization ideas and packing lists are also on offer.

Ikea's Scratch & Dent Section
Ikea's Scratch & Dent Section by Atomic Taco (CC BY-SA)

Scour the As-Is Section

Near Ikea's checkouts you'll find an "As-Is" section where Ikea's already inexpensive prices are slashed even further. Some of the items are discounted because there are flaws, but the imperfections are often small enough that they won't be deal-breakers. Other items may include discontinued products or perfectly fine floor samples. An Ikea representative tells Apartment Therapy that discounts can go as high as 60%, and the best times to shop are early in the week after a weekend influx of returns, or late summer when old stock is discontinued.

Assembly Not Your Thing? Call in the Pros
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Assembly Not Your Thing? Call in the Pros

Plenty of shoppers avoid Ikea because they can't stomach the thought of assembling their own furniture. Granted, there is a learning curve when it comes to wielding the ubiquitous Ikea hex key, but it's not everyone's forte. Ikea has partnered with TaskRabbit to make finding local assembly pros easy — just book through the app and let someone else make sense of those puzzling wordless instructions.

Missing Parts
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Don't Sweat the Missing Parts

It's rare that you'll open an Ikea box and find a crucial part is missing, but it's not so rare for a tiny wooden dowel or crucial bolt to get lost in the furniture-building process. When that happens, if you're close by the store, check the "missing parts" wall near the Returns and Exchanges desk, typically close to checkout. But if you're far away, try calling 1-888-888-4532 to tell Ikea what you need (keep your instructions handy).

Think Twice About Home Delivery
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Think Twice About Home Delivery

Need a lot from Ikea but drive a compact car? We feel your pain. If you can't snag a buddy's SUV for the day, you can opt for Ikea's home delivery service, which starts at $5 and grows based on weight, demand, and distance to your home. Same-day and next-day service is available. But if you live too far away, you're out of luck, and let's just say horror stories such as this one are common. A $20 U-Haul cargo van or similar rental might make more sense, even once you factor in mileage.

Ikea Kallax shelf
Amazon

You Can Buy on Amazon

So you're enamored with a certain Ikea product but live too far from the store to make the trip? You can buy online from Ikea, but shipping prices can be high for large items, and shipping speed leisurely. Another option? Buy on Amazon, and in many cases, you'll enjoy speedy Prime shipping. The big catch is that you'll pay a premium compared with in-store prices — but not necessarily online prices. For instance, the Kallax shelf is $70 in store but around $225 on Amazon with Prime shipping. But if you order through Ikea's website, the store charges around $80 for shipping, and the speediest delivery option still takes two weeks. Now you're making a tradeoff between speed and price.

Stick Around for the Food
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Stick Around for the Food (Also In Normal Times)

When not closed by coronavirus, Ikea's restaurant dishes out super-cheap eats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course, the company keeps meal prices ultra-low for a reason: The more you eat, the more stamina you have for what it hopes will be a wallet-busting shopping trip. But plenty of fans come solely for the food. The Scandinavian-inspired menu includes dishes such as Swedish meatballs and salmon, but true deal hounds know the time to come is breakfast, when you can get eggs, sausage, and hash browns for a buck (yes, as in $1). Of course, the meatballs are also worth a trip.

Ikea Place
Ikea

Need Help Visualizing? There's an App for That

One of the most frustrating things about furniture shopping is committing to big purchases before you can see how the pieces work in your house. Ikea tries to make this a non-issue with Ikea Place, an augmented-reality app that lets you "try out" scaled 3D models of its furniture in your very own home. Available for Android or iOS, it also lets you search for Ikea items similar to other things that you like.

Ikea Madhouse
Ikea Madhouse by Jerome Strauss (CC BY-SA)

Got a Return? Go Early

Ikea has a generous return policy that gives you 365 days to bring something back. As long as the item is in reasonably good condition, you can get a refund or exchange it, so don't be bashful. The catch? Returns are a take-a-number-and-wait affair that can easily eat an afternoon if you go when the store is busy. So go when the store opens if you don't want to wait, or aim for a weekday at the very least. Two more options if you're willing to pay to avoid heading back to the store: Send smaller items by mail, or schedule a pickup for larger items. 

Related: 21 People Who Shouldn't Shop at Ikea