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In Shanghai, it’s always Black Friday at IKEA

I went to IKEA yesterday — and, by the looks of it, so did everyone else in Shanghai. I know they weren’t shopping for Christmas, because according to the Shanghai media, there is no Christmas in China. But they were definitely shopping for something. Probably getting some early Spring Festival items out of the way — you know, the traditional Spring Festival tree, the traditional Spring Festival lights, the traditional Spring Festival candles in, of course, the traditional Spring festival colors … green and red. IKEA played right along, too, piping in through the sound system traditional Spring Festival carols (we Christmas-types should be ashamed, by the way — many of our Christmas carols are complete ripoffs of Spring Festival classics!) and requiring some employees to don traditional Spring Festival hats. You know, the red ones with the fuzzy white ball on top meant to symbolize a traditional Spring Festival baozi.

Anyway regardless of what they were buying and why they buying it, there were a hell of a lot of people at IKEA yesterday. If someone wants to interview members of China’s “growing middle class,” the Shanghai IKEA would be a fine place to take your pad and pencil.

These are the customers foreign companies dream of attracting in China. How does IKEA do it? Well, aside from the store’s customers, employees and merchandise — many of IKEA’s products are, not surprisingly, made in China — there is very little Chinese about IKEA. It is a store that was designed with the customer in mind. And that must be a welcome change for increasingly discriminating Chinese consumers, who care equally about looks, quality and cost.

Even with the crowds, IKEA, which also has a store in Beijing, is a pleasant shopping experience — and I can’t say that about too many shops, big or small, in Shanghai. (But please remember, at IKEA customers flow in one direction, following the big arrows on the overhead signs. Try not to forget something, try not to go back for anything, try not to have to maneuver your shopping cart through the masses — against traffic. Is there such a thing as aisle rage?) With its bright showrooms, its daycare center, its restaurant — roast salmon for only RMB 25 — its hot dogs, its ice cream, its haggle-free return policy, its delivery service, its horde of taxis and trucks waiting to transport you and your stuff back home, IKEA has figured out how to bring customers in and keep them coming back. And in China, it doesn’t take many customer-first features to separate yourself from the pack. IKEA, with its simple, stylish products, is so unique that when my friend Andrea visted from Xiamen on business recently, some of her colleagues put a trip to IKEA high up on their Shanghai to-do list. They treated the store as though it were a museum.

Me? I just go there to do my Spring Festival shopping.

IKEA, open 10:00-22:00 daily. Located near Shanghai Stadium at 126 Caoxi Lu, by Zhongshan Xi Lu. Phone 54254532.

Elsewhere: IKEA becomes cheap in China (wangjianshuo.com)

12.13.2004, 7:22 PM · Observations


  1. merry spring festival and happy new year, dan!

    coffee at ikea restaurant is not bad. but i doubt not many local chinese buy items there. although people would love to visit the store, most of them go there to get ideas how to decorate their homes, as for furnitures, they could buy same style ones from local manufacturers with prices as low as 10% of ikea’s.

    believe me, ikea still didn’t reach the break-even point in china. ikea target high-end customers but later find this group is too small and many of them don’t regard ikea as their option, so they want to re-target so-called chinese middle class, this is why they lower the list prices again and again.

    seems we will have a chinese 7-7 festival at Feb 14 next year

  2. I don’t think Ikea has any problem attracting middle class customers. A lot of people in the store are just there to look around, to see all the people and excitement or to view the interior design, but most of the people are there to buy and Ikea has products at such a varied price range that almost anyone who goes can afford something. I think many middle class like the diy nature of Ikea, but they also like the ease of it…

  3. I don’t know, Bingfeng. Seemed like a hell of a lot of people were buying stuff when I was there. Have you been there lately? Their stuff is really pretty cheap (and not just because I am a “rich American”).

  4. The phenomenon is no different than it is in the United States, where the consumer just wants everything that everyone else has. It’s an addiction. Haven’t you seen ‘Fight Club’?

  5. it’s a little more complicated than that, considering the leaps and bounds made by the chinese economy, the rapidly increasing disposable wealth of the growing middle class, and the fact that communism is inherently anti-capitalism (even though this has become a complete joke over the last couple of decades). this is far too new to have become an addiction—this is much more about new wealth, status and a very stark, growing change in society.

  6. When you want to sound psuedo intelligent w/out knowing WTF you’re talking about, reference “Fight Club”.

  7. Tox sure took that comment way too seriously. It was meant to be arbitrary and funny. I also enjoyed how he made no reference to the Ikea topic but chose instead to hop online to rag on people. Maybe to make up for the size of his two-inch, um, keyboard.

  8. Oy how nice there is an Ikea in Shanghai, there ia not one Ikea in the entire state of Florida.

  9. Doesn’t seem like China Daily received the “no Christmas” memo. Here is a story from today’s paper:

    We are dreaming of a White Christmas!

  10. dan,

    ask this guy on how to prevent spams:

  11. No Christmas, that is true. BUt, how come there are all those Santas with the red cheeks all over Shanghai?

  12. I love IKEA with a passion. I go there for a fix of salad, a small ocean of coffee, to daydream over the office furniture, and buy something cheap and colourful that I have no pragmatic need for. It could be “fight-club” related, but I haven’t been beating myself up lately so hopefully not. Regarding Christmas, I was greeted however by a guy with a closed gate wanting to see my passport, on my annual ten minute trip to church.


Shanghai Diaries is a website about Shanghai, China ... and lots of other stuff. Voted Best Mainland China Blog in the 2004 Asia Blog Awards.

Editor: Dan Washburn

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