IKEA’s ‘Journey To The East’
Swedish industry titan IKEA has been fostering a unique shopping experience in their massive warehouses and, looking back, it’s hard to believe this empire began forming during World War II, when 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad started selling matches he bought cheaply in Stockholm. Today, the enterprise is known worldwide for their ready-to-assemble furniture, their elaborate displays, their Wonderland-ian customer routes, their meatballs and dollar hot dogs. At least, in the West. The roll-out of stores to Japan, Korea and other Asian countries was somewhat hassle-free regardless of cultural differences. Mainland China, however, proved a tougher nut to crack.
‘The Mainlander Problem’
Today IKEA has 7 stores across Mainland China, but strange problems began to arise with the opening of IKEA Shanghai in 2003. The conflicts and behavior in customers that would otherwise be one-off issues for security to handle, quickly became endemic to the entire IKEA venture in the PRC. Whereas in the West customers would simply trot through the display route, perhaps sitting carefully on one of the beds or occasionally turning on a light to test wattage, the Chinese would see the displays as invitations. Beds were there to fall asleep in, the calming music was there so you could relax on a couch with friends for hours, the uninstalled and non-functioning toilets were there for… well, you can imagine.
The following photos are a journey of discovery as we take a look at a world where IKEA is a refuge from heat, a place to put your head down, a location to socialize, and the largest public bathroom in the country.