Navigating Ikea—In Detail

The basic need for understanding the Ikea St. Louis store is that there are three levels.  The first level is just for parking/loading, but even for this there are “secrets.”  The first is, don’t forget about the covered parking.  I think it is missed by shoppers unfamiliar with the store and often there is much closer parking in the covered area than on the main parking lot.  I also find it easier to navigate out of, as the garage exit discharges you directly to the parking lot exit nearest the highway.  Because it is less crowded undercover it is typically easier to load your large purchases in the loading zone.  And of course, there is the protection from the elements for you, your car and your purchases.

After parking you have two choices to reach the first level—an elevator, and the escalator that deposits you at the starting point of the shopping experience.  This sounds simple, but there are several important things to take note of at this point.  First of all, if you have children with you it is wise to stop at Småland.  This area is set up as a Swedish forest playland for children ages 4-10.  You must sign them in and they must meet Ikea criteria (e.g. potty-trained, see website for complete details).  But this affords you one hour of temper-tantrum-free shopping!  This is very popular and the line can be long during peak times, so plan accordingly.

Ikea Showroom

Once you have dropped your children off, Ikea “directs” you up an escalator to the third floor, which is the Showroom.  If this is your first visit and/or you are truly just shopping, this is your best bet.  The Showroom is set up as vignettes of the different room furnishings (fully assembled) and does a fabulous job of exhibiting most all of Ikea’s stock.  Take note:  If you see a piece of furniture that you know you want, it is wise to check the tag and make a note of the self-serve location for it.  If you forgot pen/paper, Ikea has you covered there with stations set up randomly throughout the store that includes the map pamphlet, pencils, and even a paper yardstick!  On the pamphlet there is an area to write down the article and location it can be found in the self-serve area.  This will save you time later.

This showroom level does not have much that you will actually pick up and buy here, but there are a few exceptions.  For the most part you will not require a cart on this level and the only way to get one there is from the second floor, on the elevator.  The few exceptions to shopping on the third floor are kitchen cabinet accessories (hardware, for one), children’s items (stuffed animals, toys, step stools), and “Ikea family” which includes safety items, travel bags/backpacks, and books & games.  Because Ikea always thinks these things through, these are the last three departments you are directed through on this level.  If you are shopping for any of these items, or just in case, skip the cart and grab one of the yellow shopping bags that Ikea provides for toting items within the store.

At the “exit” of the showroom (there is a designated path that Ikea has designed to get you through the entire store so that you don’t miss anything—there are tricks to avoid this, which I will cover in the future) is the restaurant.  If you require sustenance for your shopping experience this is one of the places.  I will cover the restaurant more in the future.

Ikea Marketplace

To continue shopping, now you head back downstairs to the “marketplace.”  As a point of reference, this is the same level that you dropped children at Småland, and where you will eventually check out. Here it is advisable to grab a cart!  And, a tip on the carts:  There are two different kinds, a standard “grocery” cart, or a cart that has a bottom platform and allows for you to “hang” one of the yellow shopping bags.  I choose based on whether I am ultimately going to buy furniture.  If you are not planning on buying furniture—use a regular shopping cart; if you are planning on buying furniture, use a platform cart and a shopping bag for smaller items.

Again, Ikea has it laid out so there is a single path through the marketplace which assures you will see EVERYTHING.  (How else will they get you to buy it?)  Some items you will see more than once!  This is the stock for the accessory items that are displayed in the showroom, plus a lot more stuff.  In my experience I still see new things every time I walk through.

The end of the marketplace experience deposits you into the “self-serve” furniture area.  Remember the notes you made on your blue pamphlet on the location of the furniture you wanted?  It is arranged in this area based on the aisle/bin number that you recorded from the tag.  If you didn’t make these notes there is a computer kiosk pod that you can look the items up and it will give you this information, but it is located past where some of the most popular items are warehoused.  When I am at Ikea I try to avoid doubling back, since it is such a jaunt on its own!  Another note about carts:  at the entrance to the self-serve area is another type of cart, with a bigger platform.  This cart also allows for hanging of the yellow bag, but will allow for more/bigger furniture items.  I have been known to switch out my yellow bag to this cart and abandon the smaller platform cart here.

Ikea Self-serve Furniture Area

If you have identified a furniture item that is very large and the location says to “see a customer representative,” you must do that.  They will provide you with a printout that allows you to pay for the item, but it will be picked up at the “furniture pick-up” counter that is located after the check out.  This is for items that are larger than they safely want you grabbing from the self-serve area and/or more confusing/complicated set ups, like the kitchen cabinets.

At this point you should have all of your bounty and are ready to pay for it.  At the check outs you are expected to place the smaller (think marketplace) items on the belt, but they will scan the larger items from the cart.  It is expected you return the yellow bags here, but of course they have blue bags that are exactly the same that you can purchase!  They do not provide bags, so either bring your own, buy the blue bag ($0.99), or carry it all loose to your car.  The blue bags are enormous and very strong.  I purchased a couple and just take them back with me whenever I go.

After checking out, you can still shop!  The “Swedish Food Market and Bistro” are past the checkout lanes.  I will cover the Food Market in another post, but if you shop here you can pay at their check out (if it is open) or at the Bistro.  The Bistro has a limited menu of snack items, including the cinnamon rolls that you have been smelling throughout the entire store!

Unless you need to pick up large furniture, your shopping experience is finished.  Remember, you are still on the second level, so you need to go downstairs.  There is an escalator “ramp” that carries people with bags, or the oversized elevator for people with carts.  Once downstairs you need to remember where you parked.  If you have any type of furniture I recommend pulling up to the loading area (either inside or outside).  There are Ikea employees that will help load your car (usually).

The last step is to call Mamakea for help assembling your furniture!