How IKEA Makes you Buy: The Gruen Transfer

How IKEA makes you buy

I learned a new term a few days ago: The Gruen Transfer.

It’s the effect that happens as soon as you arrive at a shopping mall, and you get bombarded by so many confusing layouts, colors and products that you forget what you were originally there for.

The result is that you slow down and you become an impulsive buyer.

Consequently, you spend more money than you were planning on, and end up with a few products that you didn’t really need in the first place.

The Gruen Transfer is exactly what hits me every time I go to IKEA.

It’s like a black hole that sucks me in until I realize I spent three more hours and at least a hundred more dollars than I originally planned on.

The effect is named after an Austrian architect called Victor Gruen, and his design strategy was to intentionally manipulate shoppers by disorienting them as soon as they arrive to a store.

I started thinking about the different techniques that IKEA uses to maximize the effect of the Gruen Transfer on me, and here’s what I observed:


1. Welcoming Displays

As soon as you walk through IKEA’s front doors, you get a sample of a few standalone displays. One is a kitchen, another is a living room and another is a bedroom. So if you were planning on just buying a couple of bed sheets, you’re going to look at the dishes on the kitchen counter and get a mini case of amnesia.  IKEA even makes use of high walls and also uses those for displaying additional sample closets or drawers to throw you off.


2. Single Path

Any IKEA store you visit will have a single route that you’re forced to walk along. You have only one way to enter, and you’ll have to look at EVERYTHING before you get to where you want to get to. Along the way, you will be bombarded with even more disorienting layouts in the showroom – large items, small items, color mixes, vase here, picture there – that keep the Gruen transfer working. Although you can technically take shortcuts to avoid that path, they are hidden in a stealthy way (you can find the shortcuts on the store map that you can carry with you).


3. Special Offer Baskets

If you do take the shortcuts, IKEA penalizes you by doing a very sly thing. They have special offer baskets with fantastic deals (such as lighbulbs or batteries) that are spread along the original path. As one professor at University College London stated “…because the lay-out is so confusing you know you won’t be able to go back and get it later, so you pop it in your trolley as you go past.” So those great deals are not only designed to make you spend more, but to also keep you in check like a subordinate soldier.

Sneaky, sneaky IKEA.

I still love you though.


  1. Hassan I liked the above topic. I believe that am still able controllng myself from Ikea’s lay-out maybe because I don’t believe in their offered products’ quality .

  2. Hi Hassan,
    Great topic and I agree all the way around! Just made me think how I spent almost $300 although I was only there to purchase a matching curtain for my bedding sheets :) i love them though and won’t give up letting lost in the maze :)

  3. Wissam Beiruty says:

    Excellent topic Hassan! and well said. That’s why I don’t tag along with my wife there anymore, yet she still comes home with a few items even SHE admits she didn’t need. She’s been Gruen Transfered :)

  4. Easy solution: Carry a list :) And don’t buy anything that isn’t on it without buy-in from the S.O.

    It also comes in useful in the grocery store when the move the eggs, milk and bread… for exactly the same reason.

    • That’s easier said than done :) Agree on the grocery store analogy. The daily use items are usually at the back of the store to make you walk all the way and see everything.

  5. An interesting read!
    I see some Web companies, such as Godaddy, apply the Gruen Transfer on their websites.

  6. My mother once had a nervous breakdown in Ikea because she couldn’t find the exit!! This is why!!