Communist-style customer service with a positive spin!
All throughout the store you can find tips on how you, the customer, can save work for the store's employees, thus keeping IKEA's costs down. IKEA is the first store I've seen that actively, openly discourages you from using its workers for what they are for: to help. "Why should I clear my table?" asks a sign in the cafeteria. Answer: because it reduces the amount of work for the employees, and with fewer employees, we can keep our prices low. Why should I try to figure out where to find things on my own, instead of asking for help? asks another sign (in a much more polite/cheerful language, though). Answer: the less help you need, the fewer employees we need, and that helps us to... all together now: Keep Our Prices Low! :-)
In other words, IKEA customer service concept eerily reminds me of the Communist-style service, where the customer was treated as invisible at best, or worse, as an intruder. However, I have to admire IKEA for putting such a positive spin on it: you, the customer, are not unwanted or invisible, you are smart, capable and self-sufficient for doing things yourself, figuring out things on your own! We are not ignoring you -- we are empowering you! :-)
And the store is indeed well organized to help you be self-sufficient, from take-home maps with shopping lists on the back, to the flat car-friendly packaging. And despite all the discouragement, the store employees are friendly and helpful when you dare to approach them. So I'm not griping. But there is one more thing they could do to be more consistent with their spirit of efficiency and customer empowerment.
Technology that has a potential to send people on a shopping spree
Currently IKEA provides blank shopping lists on the back of take-home maps, so that you could scribble down model names and prices of things you want. That's better than nothing, but it would be much better if they invested in a bunch of scanning wands, which the customer could wave over the barcodes of items they are interested in, and automatically add them to their shopping list or wish list. The shopping/wish list could be instantly posted on IKEA's website (protected by a username and password, of course). The customer could keep it private, or make it public, or available to friends, and such. The list could even be made accessible to the customer's friends from LiveJournal, MySpace or any social networking site, with their login credentials obtained from that site (eliminating a need for friends to create a separate account); or it could be integrated into one's Amazon wish list. Or some combination thereof. Of course, the customer would also have an option to keep the list private and use it for their own reference instead of as a gift registry.
And if they wanted to go really fancy, scanning wands could be equipped by digital cameras (a cheapo kind, as in cell phones, would suffice) so that the customer could take his/her own pictures of the furniture, which would be instantly added to the item's description in the wish list. Even though IKEA website already provides images of things, in my eyes they are not represenatative of how the items look in reality. I, as a customer, may want to take pictures of things from different angles, to capture the aspects that are important to me.
A wand-generated online shopping list would be much better than scribbling your list on a scrap of paper, because scraps of paper get lost, pencil marks fade and smear and what-have-you. Also, an online shopping/wish list can easily be shared between, and added to by, other family members.
And think of the "going wild" aspect of it! To point and click at things is just... cool! It's a game! It makes you want to point and click more! And the more items you have on your list, the more you may end up buying!
As far as I understand, some stores already use scanning wands to enable customers create gift registries. I saw customers wielding wands in Babies'R'Us. So it's not a new idea. But it would be nice to extend it to creation of shopping lists. Anything that makes it easier for customer to keep track of what he/she wants, makes it easier for them to buy. I wonder if investing in such things would actually result in bigger sales for the store.