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How to Navigate IKEA and Other Huge Stores "Efficiently" (In a Hurry)

Many months ago, I learned that I was an expert on something that is not intuitive to many people: getting in and out of IKEA in ten minutes. Like all examples of efficiency, this is a multi-step process that requires some advance planning.

Know what you want (what you really, really want)


I like to read the IKEA catalog sometimes and think about whether the products would fit into my life. Other times, I know exactly what I want, and I go looking to see if IKEA has a cheap version of this thing that I really need. Make lists as part of your daily life. If you keep making lists with a particular item, you should probably go buy that item.

If you're going grocery shopping, there is a reason Wegmans is my favorite grocery store on earth. You can search for specific products, and if you select a store, they can give you a ballpark price. This was incredibly useful when I was shopping for food with other people's money and getting rides from other people. I had 15 minutes to shop snacks for 6 weeks, and if I went over budget, I wasn't getting reimbursed.

Know where it is


Once you've got a list, reorganize your list by section, and make sure items in adjacent sections are next to one another. The first part might seem intuitive, but the second part often requires some thought about store layout. If you're not sure about it, label your sections, and shop by section once you enter the store. Of course, this can be avoided if you...

Find a damn map (preferably before you go)


Wegmans, again, earns eternal praise for a website that includes store layouts, and if you select particular items, even aisle numbers for that store. AISLE NUMBERS. They were never wrong, even as the store changed layouts.

For IKEA, you might not have a map, but do your best to find a map as quickly as possible when entering the store. Take a picture on your phone, if they've stopped handing them out. Yes, it's that bad.


Scope out the section


When you enter an unfamiliar section, do a quick walkaround and get a sense for the layout. This works in stores that are not my local Target, which puts coffee next to beer and tea next to macaroni and cheese.

This walkaround is a prime opportunity to quickly weigh impulse buys - even with ten minutes, there is time for impulse buys. If you have a limited number of things you are willing to buy without prior consideration, use this time to identify your options, and as you systematically pick up your listed items, decide which impulse buys you will give into.


If you can't find an item after your walkabout, find a sales associate instead of conducting a shelf-by-shelf search. They will be more successful or will tell you that they don't even carry that product.

Move along, move along


Move as quickly as possible to the next section on your list.

In IKEA, this means taking a moment to find a map, orient yourself, figure out all the "shortcuts" (straight-line paths), and breeze through. This calls for an economy of movement, also known as don't wander all over the place aimlessly. Move, but with purpose.


Don't be late for your dinner reservations


The key step in getting in and out of IKEA in less than ten minutes is having some place to be at a particular time. I'm always late getting in, but never late getting out, because my dinner reservation is important to me. Yes, somehow, I always have dinner reservations on the days I go shopping at IKEA.

Title photo by Rarye.

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