IKEA Shopping Tips & Tricks

I finally made my first trip to IKEA a couple of weeks ago! Even if you live right next door, it’s really quite a trip, as I’m not sure it’s possible to run in and out in less than a few hours.  (Maybe, if you’re really just running in to pick up on specific thing that you know exactly where it’s located.)

I asked Denver Bargains Facebook fans what tips they had for a newbie IKEA shopper, and they had some great ones!  Here’s some of your tips for shopping at IKEA, and a few more observations from my inagurual trip to the Centennial IKEA store:

IKEA Showcase Floor

Know the store layout.

I didn’t realize that IKEA basically has three sections: the showroom, marketplace, and warehouse.

The showcase shows you tons of IKEA products arranged in “real-life” setups, much like any other furniture store.  You’ll see their optimization ideas for teeny-tiny apartments and cool kitchen arrangements.  In the showcase area, you mostly browse around and get ideas, though of course they do have small displays of accessories that are available for purchase.  All of these accessories will also be available in the marketplace section, so don’t feel the need to tote them around everywhere.

When you see something you like, write it down (IKEA has stands of pencils and notepads) or take a picture of the tag so that you know what you’re looking for in the next sections if you decide to purchase it.

Once you leave the showcase area, you’ll probably head to the marketplace, which is where you’ll do all your buying of everything that doesn’t need assembly (pillows, candles, slipcovers, bedding, kitchenware, etc).  You can pick up a big blue bag to tote your stuff around, or grab a cart.

After you get through the marketplace, you’ll then enter the warehouse, where you’re greeted with boxes upon boxes of ready-to-assemble furniture.  There are kiosks where you can type in the item you want so you can know what aisle it’s on (and if it’s in stock).

At the end of the warehouse is the As-Is section (see below) and checkouts.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the “deals”.

IKEA does have some great deals on a lot of stuff, but it’s easy to find so many good deals that you quickly blow your budget!  This advice from Facebook fan Paula was fantastic:

Don’t buy anything the first time you go unless you know EXACTLY what you are wanting/looking for. It can be overwhelming and very easy to think you need something that you really don’t.

We went and looked around and made notes of things we liked and wanted. Then went home and discussed our true needs vs wants. We brought home a catalog and with that and the online catalog we wrote down what we needed and made another trip back for those items.

It saved us a lot of stress, time, AND money!

Getting away from the “cheap” look.

IKEA is synonymous with cheap: both in price and construction.  While this was our first trip to IKEA, we’ve encountered their goods before and were never terribly impressed.  Their cheapest stuff is inexpensive for a reason: it’s got minimal materials and is built on as small of scale as possible.  While a small chair can be comfortable for me, it’s not for my over-six-foot husband, and it also tends to look somewhat “off” if you try mixing it with furniture that is more normal-sized.

But, if you step up from their cheapest lines and hit their mid-range or higher furniture, it seemed to be a lot sturdier and more normally proportioned.  Obviously, then it costs more and you’ll want to make sure that you know how a similar item might be priced elsewhere or you might end up overpaying.

I was surprised to see a fair amount of furniture at IKEA that would fit well in a more traditionally-styled room.  I expect most of it to be pretty modern, but there were quite a few pieces that would mix and match well in a variety of styles.  Again, though, these are the types of pieces that are bulkier and therefore cost more.

Check the As-Is section.

IKEA has an as-is section, where you can purchase damaged or returned goods at steep discounts:

From Terje: The “as is” department often has great finds. It is stuff that might be slightly broken or missing a piece but often there are great items there for practically nothing. Look there for things you can repurpose as well.

And some warnings about the pricing in the As-Is section:

From Kristina: Be careful of the “As is” section. The furniture finds are fantastic, even if damaged. The other goods however, may not always be the lowest price, so compare!

From Kathe: Be careful in the as is dept. I have seen items in there priced higher than the item on the shelf!! Confirmed this with a friend that works there. I still love Ikea, just need to be aware of this.

At the Centennial IKEA, the As-Is section is located at the very end, next to the checkout.  You may want to stop in there first to see if they have anything you need!

Bring your own bag.

IKEA provides their big yellow bags for shopping in the store, but if you need a bag to take your stuff home, you’ll have to purchase one.  They’re only $0.59, but if you’re buying a lot of stuff you might want to bring your own bags.

They do provide string in the loading area to help you secure your purchase in/on your vehicle.

A rare sight: an empty IKEA parking garage!

The scoop on the crowds.

Lots of people warn about the crazy crowds at IKEA:

From Anne: Be prepared if you go on the weekend – it is a madhouse like none I’ve ever seen before. I get in there and even with a list get turned around and can’t find half of what I’m looking for. It’s overwhelming.

From Whitney: Definately go during the week and earlier in the day – wayyy less people!

From Elizabeth: We go on Sunday mornings when the cafe opens at 9:30 and get the $1.99 big breakfast! It’s never too crowded then.

We went to IKEA on a Saturday afternoon and honestly, though the parking garage was full at 2 PM and we did have to drive around a bit to find a parking spot, the crowds were really not that bad, in my opinion.  My husband is very anti-crowd and even he didn’t think it was that bad.

Here’s why: IKEA is set up in such a way that everyone mostly goes in the same direction.  Unlike a grocery store, where people go up and down the aisles in opposite directions, IKEA is set up more like a maze:

Image from Orijinal on Flickr

So, even if there are a lot of people in the store, it’s much less chaotic than if the same concentration of people were at the grocery store or an indoor mall.

The last hour or so of our IKEA shopping trip (we were there for 3-4 hours) coincided with one of the Denver Broncos last playoff games, so by late afternoon on Saturday, the place was quite empty.  I’m thinking Super Bowl Sunday would be a great time to shop at IKEA!

Special discounts for IKEA Family & debit card users

Before you go, make sure you sign up for the their IKEA Family program, which gives you special prices” on select items.  These discounts last all month long and are noted as a “member price” on the tag in the store.  You’ll also get free coffee and tea when you sign up for IKEA Family, and if you sign up online and then take the registration confirmation with you to pick up the actual plastic membership card, you get a free frozen yogurt, too.

If you’re planning on making a big purchase at IKEA, you might want to make a small purchase ahead of time: you’ll get a coupon for 1% off your next order when you pay for a purchase using a debit card.

Beware the cheap toys at the end.

Oh, IKEA is brilliant. As my husband commented, nothing is unintentional at IKEA – not the least of which is the very last section in the Marketplace, which is filled to the brim with cheap toys and other things your children will beg for.

Yep, after you’ve hauled your kids through hours of shopping, IKEA knows that you are well-primed to buy them a toy as a reward or bribe or whatever you prefer to call it.

They did have quite a few toys for $0.99 so you won’t have to blow your budget here, but just know that the begging will start when you reach the very end.

Stay in budget by bringing in only cash.

I’m not a huge cash-only person, but one great way to stay in budget at IKEA is to take only cash inside.  Chances are, you really will not want to leave the store and go to your car to get the credit or debit card so it’s a great motivator to keeping your spending in check!

What are your tips for shopping at IKEA?


  1. I love the comment about nothing being unintentional. One of the intentional things I loved on our trip to IKEA (that doesn’t have much to do with the store) is the fact that they have children’s height sinks in the restroom. I’ll happily support a place that helps a trip with the kids go any easier.

  2. Don’t they also have a Daycare to drop off children while you’re shopping? Anyone know anything about that?

    • They do! It looked like lots of fun but it was just my husband and I when we went so I don’t know anything about it. I think it’s limited to one hour of playtime.

    • Mommy Kane says:

      Yes they do have a daycare. The kids have to be a certain height and possibly 3? Definately have to be toilet trained as well. I was able to drop my 4 yo off the first time we went (opening weekend) but had to keep my 2 yo with me (he was so sad). She had a great time. They really check and double check when dropping and picking your child up. But the line can be slow to get through. You also get an extra half hour of time in the daycare if you have a family card. I can’t remember the time limit, but in that store it does go fast! Also check out their website, they have deals in their cafeteria for free kids meals or discount meals. Used to be free breakfast on Monday mornings and free kids meals on Tuesdays. And you get a free coffee or tea every time you go if you have the family card. You can sign up on their website for the card.

  3. They regularly have kids eat free in the restaurant, usually holiday weekends. We’ve utilized this a few time when doing other outings nearby. We’ve never had a long wait. They’re pretty good about moving people through and usually have two sides open to get your food so be aware of that. I didn’t notice that the first time.

  4. I haven’t made my first trip to IKEA yet, and I can’t wait! Thanks for all the tips!

  5. My secret to IKEA is to enter in the exit and go directly to the “as is” department, to the left. Then I take the short walk through the warehouse and turn left. That take you directly to the Marketplace where the things I want are located. This avoids walking all though the store to get to the bargains and accessories, which are what I usually want. I also go Sunday, before noon, to avoid the crowds

  6. Unless they’ve changed the policy recently, the debit card coupon isn’t 1% off your next purchase; you accumulate 1% of your current purchase to use next time. Or at least that’s how it was last time I used debit there…

    • I guess I’m not understanding what you mean by “accumulating” 1% of your current purchase to use next time?

      • You spend x dollars on a debit card, they give you a coupon valued at 1% of x to apply to future purchases.