Sunday, December 02, 2007

“The advent of Ikea to Belfast”

I’ve mentioned before that AiB gets a lot of hits for people looking up Ikea Belfast in Google. I suppose it helps that a couple of AiB posts come up in fifth and sixth places in the first page of search results!

A feature writer with the Irish Times got in touch by email about 10 days ago looking for some thought to include in a piece she was writing about

“the advent of Ikea to Belfast”.
Ikea Belfast article in Irish Times weekend section

Given the season, I loved the thought of describing it as the advent of Ikea to Belfast. Most appropriate. So a couple of minutes of rapid typing later, I sent back the following reply ... some of which made it into the article that was published in last Saturday’s Weekend section of the Irish Times - a part of the paper that doesn’t seem to be reproduced on their website. Unfortunately, the "advent" headline wasn't there in the final article. (Grey text was edited out from the finished article.)

As a East Belfast resident I'm in two minds about IKEA's arrival in December.

We've had roadworks galore all around the area for the last few months as junctions are widened and lanes are adjusted. On December 13 that's expected to be replaced with heavy traffic as people come from far and even further afield to worship (or is that worshop?) in the Scandinavian store. And then there's Secret Sainsburys - as the supermarket in Holywood Exchange is locally known. It will be a secret no more as the masses of IKEA visitors decide to do pick up some shopping before heading home.

Yet despite the cynicism, I too long for a quick scoot around the acres (29 000 sq m) of Swedish kitsch that's coming to our doorstep. My daughter will be three just days after the store opens, and she's going to love bouncing on all those beds. I'm curious whether there'll be some gadget on sale to hold all those heavy duty plastic shopping bags that are accumulating in our kitchen, or some magic shelving to tidy up the stacks of books cluttering the floor by my bedside. And I'm wondering if the rumours could be true about just how good the massive in-store restaurant really is.

But overall, my curiosity about the novel new shopping experience is tarnished by the 1400 parking spaces in IKEA's multi-storey car park, and further dulled by the knowledge that very few of IKEA's visitors will be stopping off to buy fish and chips at the local carry outs, or buying fruit and veg from the local greengrocer, meat from the local butcher. While a few hundred jobs is good for the local area, I wish the wealth and opportunity could be spread about a little wider.

Alan in Belfast features in Irish Times' article on Ikea Belfast

Towards the end of the article, there's a great quote from another Alan, this time Alan Penn, an urban modeller at University College London, who describes Ikea stores as

"... psychologically disruptive, a coercive environment - a kind of brainwashing ..."

My only complaint comment on the finished article would that ideally blog’s would be referred to by name, in this case Alan in Belfast rather than “Belfast blogger Alan’s site” which doesn’t really lead anyone to the original article.

Before I sign off this post, I posted about the Ikea Belfast new store manager’s blog a month or so ago. Even submitted a question which received no response – positive or negative. In fact, Paul Reid must have his work cut out getting the store in shape for the December 13 opening as he’s only managed one post in the last 8 weeks. A shame that Ikea are using blogging (and the WordPress platform) but not really engaging in two-way conversation.

Maybe someone from who reads this – and the logs show that they do – will pick up on this and think about how they interact with local communities as they gear up towards the opening of new stores, and actually reply to questions posed on their “Send a question to the manager” function.


Stephen Barnes said...

The day after you post this, doesn't Mr Ikea Manager go and put up two posts, one with loads of photos...

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Like I said, Sitemeter doesn't lie when it shows incoming traffic from in Sweden!