Lounging at IKEA in China

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

KATY CLARK: Many Americans are familiar with IKEA, the giant Swedish furniture store chain. One of its selling points, apart from the cheap build-it-yourself furniture is convenience. Got kids? Drop them off at the play room while you shop. Hungry? Try the Swedish meatballs in the restaurant. Don't know what to buy? Try it out. Sit in the chairs or lie on the beds. Most American shoppers, though, try to get what they need and get out as quickly as possible. On that score, things are very different in China. Many visitors to IKEA store in Beijing aren't there to make a purchase but they linger for hours. It's less a shopping experience and more like a vacation. LA Times reporter David Pearson wrote about this in a recent article. David Pearson, tell us why do Beijingers go to IKEA?

DAVID PEARSON: You know, I think it's got all the right ingredients, air conditioning, there's cheap attractive food and most importantly, there's a soft seat available almost anywhere. Every room you go to there's sofas where there's people lying down, falling asleep, people underneath the covers. And you find that most people are kind of just hanging out in there, young families with their kids, with their parents in tow. It's just an excellent way to get out of the smog and the typically hot Beijing summer days.

KATY CLARK: Which that makes sense; I mean air conditioning is nice. Having a place to sit is nice, but one of the things that's really weird about this is how they take photographs of themselves in the store.

DAVID PEARSON: IKEA is one of these places where you know, it's sort of got this aspirational style to it for a lot of Beijingers. And when I met this one young man who was just taking pictures of everything he came across and then ended up putting on his blog with a little quickie remark at the end saying, "I don't need to buy because I have the pictures."

KATY CLARK: So you're describing sort of they like the soda refills, they have a nice nap but do they buy anything?

DAVID PEARSON: That's sort of been the conundrum for IKEA. And, you know, this is a private company so they don't talk about their profits but they have hinted that this is a long-term strategy in China and the profits might come later. It's one of these weird situations where they have amazing brand awareness but people aren't spending money as much as they'd like to.

KATY CLARK: Well, I don't like to be judgmental here, but I mean, at the end of the day don't these folks have anything better to do than to hang out at IKEA?

DAVID PEARSON: I bet, you know, any other city where there's an IKEA people go there just to hang out. I think the only difference here is I would challenge anyone to find people as brazen as the Beijingers are in just coming to hang out. You know, the interesting thing about IKEA in Beijing is if you take the people out, it looks like any IKEA. It looks like the IKEA I went to in Burbank for nine years. It's just interesting how different cultures use the same things across the world and it sort of reflects, I think, the different values here in China.

KATY CLARK: Are the meatballs in the restaurant as popular there as they are in Burbank for instance?

DAVID PEARSON: I don't think they are as popular. I see people eating them, but people just in China can't seem to resist their own cuisine. So most people are going after pork belly and dried mushrooms over rice.

KATY CLARK: What do they call IKEA in China anyway? It's not IKEA is it?

DAVID PEARSON: No, they call it I Ja [ph] and I hope I pronounced that correctly but it means comfortable home.

KATY CLARK: And what about all of those wonderful IKEA names that we all struggle over like the TROFAST storage frames and the SULTAN mattresses and some other great ones.

DAVID PEARSON: Yeah, I think the Chinese struggle with pronouncing some of those names with the umlaut just as much as other countries do.

KATY CLARK: Excellent. David Pearson is the Beijing reporter with the LA Times. Thanks for speaking with us.

DAVID PEARSON: Thanks very much.