When Ikea entered the US in a big way in the 1990s, its executives were bemused by the number of vases they were selling. Slowly it dawned on workers at the Swedish retailer that Americans were buying them not to put flowers in, but to drink from: the European-style glasses Ikea stocked were just too small for US tastes.
That cultural misstep – along with others such as mattresses that were too hard and measured in centimeters, not king or queen size – was soon corrected. But the tension between the Swedish heart of the world's biggest furniture retailer and its far-flung outposts remains.
The latest demonstration came last week when French prosecutors placed the company and its two top executives in the country under formal investigation over spying allegations.
The probe is focusing on claims that Ikea's managers in France illegally obtained police records of their employees to check if they had dodgy pasts. According to people familiar with the investigation, it is less concerned with another alleged spying angle uncovered: that Ikea may have used private detectives to check up on disgruntled customers.