If you’ve never been to an IKEA, try to imagine a huge maze.

Except this maze is full of kitchens, dining rooms, and entertainment centers, each with its own unique style. Every one of these “household scenes” are impossibly fitted together in a way that leads you through a showroom labyrinth from hell. You start out loving it and end up walking out of the place like you have a new lease on life.

I’ll leave it at this: IKEA is a truly massive store.

But with such a huge store size, IKEA had to figure out how to use their space efficiently. Storing “spare” kitchens wasn’t exactly a possibility. Especially considering that their stores are already enormous warehouses.

So, like any enterprising Dutch furniture maker would do, IKEA got efficient.

They decided to hand off the “assembly” part of their products to their customers. Instead of buying a whole dresser, you could bring home your very own corrugated (and deceptively flat) box labeled with “Fluggenflaggen” (or something like that) – skeptically hoping everything was in there.

My first IKEA box was sort of a magical letdown.

I wanted to open the box and have a beautiful new kitchen island pop out like it would in Harry Potter. With a sort of “scchhhhOOP!” sound.

Unfortunately, though, I was met with a BOOK of instructions in seventeen different languages. I proceeded to start finding the letter labels on random pieces of wood and metal, stepping back every couple minutes to see if things were starting to take shape.

I was trying to see if my kitchen island was taking shape. A smooth wooden counter-top, clean white shelves underneath, and a couple stools to sit at. The perfect addition to my new apartment. But my creation was taking awhile. Eventually, two hours and four backwards-installed (and then fixed) legs later, I finally had my kitchen island. But the thing was – I wasn’t pissed off about the extra work. In fact, I was proud.

I had just built a kitchen island! Badass!

The manual labor I had invested in that kitchen island (which IKEA saved) actually led me to liking the thing even more.

Which brings me to today’s featured Spark: The IKEA Effect.

The IKEA Effect is a documented phenomenon in which customers are willing to pay more for something if they played a part in creating it.

Here’s what happened with my kitchen island:

When I assembled it by hand, I invested time and effort (and I admit, a little pain) into creating it. It transformed from some factory-assembled mass market thing into MY kitchen island. I had put every screw into the damn thing. It was standing up because of ME. I developed an emotional connection to it.

For real.

It’s the same emotional connection we hold toward heirlooms or other personal items. Objects in our lives trigger memories and feeling in much the same way people do (only my kitchen island doesn’t talk – that’s the new model).

The Research

When researchers were looking into this method, they gave two identical groups a bunch of IKEA boxes. One group had to assemble the boxes on the spot and the other group had the boxes assembled FOR them.

Afterward, both groups were asked to say what they were willing to pay for their new piece of furniture. The group that assembled their own boxes were willing to pay 63% MORE for their boxes than the group whose boxes were assembled for them.

That premium was created in the minds of those group members because of the emotional connection that was established during the building process. That’s the IKEA Effect in action.

So my question to YOU is: how can you create this same emotional connection between your customers and what you’re selling? How can you create a risk-free and satisfying sense of involvement in your customers – so they’re more loyal to your products and will pay a premium for them?


P.S. The ironic part of the IKEA Effect is that IKEA doesn’t actually benefit from it. The increase in perceived value of their products happens at home – after the thing is already assembled. They’d have to force their customers to build their furniture in the checkout line. Which would make for a great TV show – just not a great business model.