How IKEA Instructions Could Go From Worst to Best


improving Ikea assembly instructions

IKEA sold $35,700,000,000 worth of merchandise in 2015–that’s billion with a ‘B’. As of 2008, it is the world’s largest furniture retailer. With the resources of that magnitude, you’d think they could offer a little better assembly experience. After all, it’s an integral part of their product, i.e., the part most people despise. Don’t get us wrong; we love IKEA. They introduced us to creative and simple designs, drove prices down, (competition is always good for the customer) and turned furniture shopping into an aMAZE-ing experience with endlessly connected aisles of home furnishings and decor. They gave us the flat-pack so we could cram it all into our cars and take it home. They also sell killer Swedish meatballs.

But if there is one thing IKEA has struggled with, it’s assembly instructions. If reading the words ‘IKEA Assembly Instructions’ just made you shudder, you’re not alone. Here’s one example:

bad user assembly instructions

Some Assembly Required

It’s no wonder there are companies out there — an entire secondary market, in fact — specializing in IKEA assembly. They capitalize on IKEA’s daunting assembly instructions and handle other flat-pack or “some assembly required” products. A search on Thumbtack (a local service finder) shows at least 10 companies in the Dallas area alone who assemble furniture. The very first question they ask is if you need help with IKEA furniture, or some other kind.

Besides plenty of hourly work for post-purchase handymen, the IKEA instruction conundrum has spawned loads of memes; and  photos of funny IKEA fails are all over the internet.

In fact, Ryan Reynolds posted a hilarious YouTube video building an IKEA baby crib that “besides a slow descent into alcoholism” results in several dropped F-bombs, a mess of duct tape, a lot of leftover hardware and a long and frustrating phone call to IKEA customer service. Let’s just say 1) Blake Lively won’t be putting her baby in that thing and 2) IKEA has some room for improvement.


A Contradiction in Terms

The irony is that the revolutionary flat-pack concept that saves the industry leader millions in assembly time and showroom space may be to blame for sucking up resources in the customer service department. At about $1/minute, call centers are continually searching for ways to reduce costs while still providing adequate service. The trouble is (as Reynolds demonstrates) by the time you finally call customer service and actually reach a live human, you may already be more than a little fed up. It doesn’t exactly set the support teammember up for success. IKEA only has one star (out of five) on the Consumer Affairs Overall Satisfaction Rating scale (based on 158 ratings out of 816 reviews). For the industry leader, that’s pretty grim.

making sense of ikea assembly instructions

Actual instructions from IKEA

It may be well worth it to pay someone to take on the project BEFORE you’ve spent 3 hours reading, 3D puzzling, connecting pieces, re-reading, disconnecting pieces, scrutinizing paper diagrams from every angle, stripping screws and busting plywood. But shelling out $50-$200 for assembly sort of defeats the purpose of buying IKEA furniture. Frustrating!

2016 IKEA Catalogue Assembly instructions

More than 200 million copies of the IKEA catalogue are printed and distributed annually. That’s more than the Bible.

A London-based company called Flat Pack Mates has a blog dedicated to supporting and informing IKEA customers. Articles including “6 of the Hardest to Assemble Pieces of IKEA Furniture” and “5 Ways Your Relationship Can Survive a Trip to IKEA” illustrate the universal challenge at the core of the IKEA experience.

Taking into account the complaining and widespread horror stories, you may be surprised the company spends a considerable amount of research, time and money developing their (in)famous instruction manuals. But due to the global reach (the IKEA catalogue is distributed in 46 countries and 30 languages) and high cost of translation, the solution has been to remove as much text as feasible from the instructions and rely solely on pictures when possible. That may save the Swedish translation team a lot of work, but removing words rarely adds clarity or simplicity. Few people want to guess at Pictionary while building a Billy bookcase that could potentially cause injury if done incorrectly.

So if the “picture is worth a thousand words” model doesn’t exactly apply, how DO you fix such a pervasive pain point?

You think outside the flat-pack box (pun intended). You innovate. You create the BILT app.

The 3D Alternative

Imagine if the next time you begin to assemble a new purchase, you could just tap the BILT app on your phone or tablet and type in the name of the product. Simple 3-D interactive, step-by-step instructions would be at your fingertips. The video is audio AND text-guided, but if you ever have a question about a step, all you do is tap the screen to pause and zoom in or out on the image by pinching your fingers open or closed. Drag your finger across the screen to manipulate the image, rotating it to just the right angle.

easy product assembly with biltappIf you tap on any segment of the image, its part number and description pop up on your screen. If you have missing or damaged hardware, you know exactly what information to tell customer service. Their phone number is right on the product splash page in the BILT app. That radically cuts time spent on the phone with customer support, which reduces time waiting on hold, which drastically improves customer goodwill, which dramatically increases Net Promoter Scores! It’s a win-win-win-win-win. And when you’re done, you’re only a tap or two away from registering your product. Your warranty is stored and updated automatically in the BILT app. You keep winning.

But innovation rarely starts at the top. Titans of industry are often slow to adapt. Whenever we show the BILT app, there is one question invariably asked in the first 90 seconds of every demo: “Wow! Have you shown this to IKEA?” It could change everything.