Why do we love our Ikea furniture?

I’m kind of smug about my bookshelf. The story behind this bookshelf is one that we’ve all heard before. It starts with a trip down to Ikea, tirelessly navigating our way through its maze like warehouse, potentially getting lost, eventually emerging at the checkouts, only to find that we need to spend another hour lining up in a queue. Yet, we are still not fazed. We enthusiastically – more often than not, frustratingly – spend the rest of the day assembling our treasured Ikea furniture and… voila!

The ‘Ikea Effect’

Now, there appears to be a psychological reason behind why we feel immensely proud of our Ikea furniture. This, as coined by Dan Ariely, is known as the ‘Ikea Effect’. Ariely suggests that when people imbue products with their own labour, the personal effort exerted increases their valuation of products. That is, the fact that we’ve invested our personal money, time and effort into assembling a piece of furniture allows us to feel a greater sense of ownership than if we just bought something fully assembled.

The challenge for marketers is convincing consumers to engage in the kinds of co-creation that will lead them to value products more highly, particularly given the general aversion to such pursuits. However, a fine balance needs to be struck. If you make a task too difficult to complete, consumers will give up, which creates an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction and failure. Conversely, if you make a task too easy to complete, consumers will not feel that sense of ownership or attachment.

A perfect example of this is in the late 1940s when instant cake mixes were invented in the States. Originally, the cake mixes were introduced to simplify the life of the American housewife. All you had to do was open the cake mix, pour it into a bowl, add water, stir and pop it in the oven. These cake mixes were initially met by much resistance as it made cooking too easy, leading to housewives feeling their labour was inadequate and under appreciated. As a result, manufacturers changed the recipe to require adding an egg. It was an incredibly simple addition, but it made a world of difference and made housewives feel that they were adding a crucial ingredient into the fold.

1940s Instant Cake Mix Advertisement

As seen in the above examples, the inherent power of building personal ownership into a product should not be discounted. Recent brands, like Build-a-Bear, have also leveraged upon this phenomenon and seek to give children the opportunity to ‘create’ their own loveable plush toy. So, if you’re a brand and you want your consumers to really love your product, incorporate an element of the Ikea Effect into it and let your customers really own it!


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