Flatpack Flashpoints

What's going wrong at Ikea?

This week, a 6,000-strong crowd stampeded at the launch of a new store in north London, forcing the Swedish retailer to close the doors just 40 minutes after they opened at midnight. Nine ambulances were called and three people taken to hospital with injuries.

One woman was said to have been threatened by a man with a mallet, and another waiting in the checkout queue was "mugged" for her cut-price sofa. Security guards were reported to have fled the scene and police are investigating an incident near the store in which a man was stabbed.

It's not the first time an Ikea store opening has gone seriously wrong. Last September, three men were trampled to death in a rush to claim vouchers when Ikea opened its first store in Saudi Arabia.

Some commentators reckon historians might look back on these Ikea "riots" as the precursor of some kind of "fundamentalist consumerism" or "guerilla shopping" wars.

More likely it's another warning sign that Ikea is losing touch with its customers. Recent months have seen customer backlashes against Ikea's imposition of extra fees on shoppers who dare to pay by credit card or use its car park.

The October issue of Fast Company profiled Dan Cathy, president of Atlanta-based restaurant chain Chick-fil-A. Last year, Cathy camped out overnight with customers at 16 new store openings because he believes leadership is about getting close to his patrons and championing the customer experience on their behalf.

Maybe it's time Ikea bosses rolled out their sleeping bags too.

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