The Gruen Transfer: Lost in Ikea

Whenever we think about Ikea, our minds run to two different things: IKEA’s signature one-way path and its food court (yes, I’m talking about the iconic meatballs). But are we fully aware of how these two features impact our trips to the world-famous Swedish retail store?
Learn more about it in this article.

Since the opening of its first store in 1958, IKEA has mastered the so-called Gruen Transfer (also known as Gruen Effect). It is a psychological phenomenon, which pries on a sense of familiarity and safety in order to push the consumers to buy (much) more than they had previously meant to or need to.
It takes its name from the Austrian architect Victor Gruen (1903-1980), who is also responsible for the rise of modern malls as a place where it is possible to both shop and build social connections.

Exactly how it happens with IKEA – and Byzantine churches, the first malls envisioned by Gruen had a blank, anonymous exterior. This feature was meant to boost the customers’ feeling of surprise as soon as they walked into the mall and saw big, lit, and colorful signs and banners claiming their attention.

However, lights, colors, and music are not the only means that can be used in order to obtain the Gruen Effect, and IKEA knows it well.
With its circular design, the furniture brand has also been able to create a mysterious atmosphere and take advantage of the customers’ fear of missing out.
The former increases the level of dopamine – i.e., the hormone of happiness and love – pushing the customers to make bolder and more spontaneous decisions when it comes to their shopping. On the other hand, the latter makes clients put items in their shopping carts “just in case”.

Moreover, dopamine can also be released by smells and tastes. And this is where IKEA’s food court comes into play.
Staple dishes – such as hot dogs, meatballs, and their vegetarian or vegan versions as well – are the only reason more than a third of all customers actually decide to stop by IKEA.
However, this choice can influence their present and future behavior when it comes to their shopping. For example, they might end up buying something that they did not need on their way to the food court. If not, they might decide to stop at IKEA instead of any other furniture retail store when they will actually need to buy something just because of the food. And that’s also how IKEA can surprisingly keep up with such cheap prices.

But why is the food from IKEA so appealing? There are two main reasons for this.
First, actual Scandinavian dishes make up for only half of the menu. The remaining food choices are tailored to the preferences of that area’s specific demographic – as the examples in the picture below show. That is why IKEA offers lasagna to its Italian customers and onion rings to the Turkish ones.
Differences among IKEA's menus over the world.

Second, the food is rather inexpensive. Therefore, a whole family can easily afford to eat a complete meal over the food court with as much as thirty US dollars (this is a rough estimation). Chris Spear, a former chef at IKEA, has even stated that the low prices are meant to “reinforce the low-price profile of the store”.

Finally, the food court plays a further role in the customer’s experience. It is also a place where clients can discuss and decide about possible purchases without even leaving the store, as the manager of Ikea’s retail services Gerd Diewald claimed.

Even though these aspects incisively and thoroughly shape “the IKEA’s experience”, they might change soon.
In fact, the Swedish chain is currently working on the development of a new, more immersive, experience to offer to its customers. It might involve relaxing around the store, meeting influencers, and the opportunity to learn more about how to live sustainably – such as learning how to waste less food or take care of a micro-garden.

Polyglot, stand-up enthusiast, Law student. 23, from Italy.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

Site Footer