8 costly mistakes to avoid when shopping at Ikea

An Ikea location in Edmonton, Canada
Source: IKEA

Ikea is known for its delicious Swedish meatballs, free pencils and quirky furniture assembly instructions. But it can also be a great place to find a deal when shopping for home furnishings — as long as you don't get caught making some common shopping mistakes.

"Ikea is designed for impulse purchases," Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot, tells CNBC Make It. That means it's tricky to just take a quick trip to pick up a few items. Instead, if you're not savvy, you'll walk out hours later with hundreds of dollars in home furnishings you didn't know you needed.

Here are eight common mistakes that experts recommend avoiding next time you're shopping at Ikea in order to maximize your time and your potential savings.

1. You don't measure before you shop

It seems like a no-brainer, but it can be an expensive mistake if you purchase a piece of furniture that doesn't fit your space. Make sure you take the time to measure your space before you head to Ikea, Lindsay Weekes, staff editor for Brad's Deals, tells CNBC Make It.

And take more measurements than you think you'll need, maybe even in multiple rooms. "You never know what you may fall in love with," she says. You don't want to risk not having all the info with you.

Not only should you measure your room, you may want to measure your vehicle, too. Ikea includes the packaging size online, so if you're planning on some big buys, it's worth double checking that you can get your purchases home.

If you have trouble visualizing the new furnishings in your home, Ikea introduced the Ikea Place app in 2017 to help with that. Using augmented-reality (AR) technology, the app lets you snap a photo of your room and then see exactly how more than 2,000 furniture items might fit into your space.

A group of Ikea boxes piled on top of an old fashioned VW car.
tunart | iStock Unreleased | Getty Images

2. You don't check out your options ahead of time

A majority of Ikea's stores function simultaneously as a showroom, a marketplace and a warehouse, so it can be overwhelming (and time-consuming) to go in unprepared. If you're designing a room (or a few), request an Ikea catalog ahead of time.

This way you can 'shop' before you get there, Weekes says. "Makes the experience a little less overwhelming."

Another way to shop ahead is through Ikea's online room planners. The interactive guide allows you to specify the size and layout of your space, and then add Ikea furniture and appliances to the room. "You can also make your shopping list on their website, so you will have all of the product numbers in one place," Weekes says.

Once you pre-shop, make sure you check the inventory before you go. Most products have a "check stock at your local store" option online. Then when you get there you can ask an in-store sales associate to help you track it all down, Skirboll says.

For $5, Skirboll says shoppers can avoid the crowds and the shipping fees by purchasing online and picking up from the store. The program, called Click & Collect, also rewards you with a $5 Ikea gift card when you pick up your order in-store.

If you're furnishing a new place and planning on making some big purchases, make sure to sign up for Ikea's moving program. You'll get a coupon to save $25 off a purchase of $250 or more.

3. You don't know how to maneuver around the store

There's no getting around it, most Ikea stores are huge— and it's easy to get sidetracked in the maze of rooms and departments.

If you don't want to lose focus, make sure you grab a store layout map (which also includes a handy shopping list) when you first walk in. These include shortcuts between sections.

"Taking the shortcuts will save you time and possibly some extra bucks," Skirboll says. If you forget to grab a shopping list at the beginning (and a free pencil or two) look for the signs that point out the shortcuts as you shop.

Woman shops in the warehouse section of Ikea.

4. You're not part of the loyalty program

The biggest way to save money, Weekes says, is to join the loyalty program: Ikea Family. It's free and offers excluisve discounts and promotion. For example, members always get free hot tea and coffee at the restaurant.

Right now, Ikea is offering 20% off desks to those enrolled in its Family program through June 23, 2019. And every month, Ikea randomly selects one member from each store to win a $100 gift card.

Another perk: Members get 90-day purchase protection. If you buy something and it goes on sale for a lower price within three months, you can bring in your receipt and receive a refund for the difference.

5. You don't take a break

After trekking through the showrooms, it's time to take a break and re-group at Ikea's in-store restaurant. It's the home of the famous Ikea Swedish meatball dinner (starting at just $5.99).

"The food at Ikea is a big bonus," Skirboll says, especially for those shopping as a family and those who end up staying a little bit longer than anticipated (which, let's be honest, is most of us).

Not only is the food very inexpensive (kids meals start at $2.99), but the break gives you a chance to absorb all of the ideas and products you see in the showrooms. It can be a good time to weed out what you really need and what items you want to search for elsewhere.

Throughout the year, Weekes says Ikea has promotional events, including free meals, and those can be good days to shop.

Darby S | Twenty20

6. You don't take advantage of some alone time

Sometimes you not only need a snack break, you need a break from shopping with your kids. Ikea gets it. Most stores offer free childcare for kids ages 4 to 10, Weekes says. Ikea notes that children need to be potty trained and be 37 inches to 54 inches tall.

While you scour the marketplace for that perfect new sheet set, you can drop off the kids for up to an hour. And if you're an Ikea Family member, you get an extra 30 minutes.

This can really save you some extra time and hassle during your shopping experience, Skirboll says.

7. You skip the As-Is department

If you want the biggest discounts, start in the "As-Is" section, which is usually located in the warehouse section of the store. Here, you can find items other customers' returned, display pieces, discontinued products or those with minor damage. Another bonus, these may be pre-built, so you don't have to worry about assembling once you get it home.

While Ikea notes that items in this section can be up to 50% off, Weekes says you typically see prices discounted by about 15%. And she says most locations offer an extra 10% off on Wednesdays.

When it comes to the As-Is department, Weekes says the biggest selection will be available on Monday mornings after the weekend returns.

Another discount to look out for: anything bearing the yellow "last chance" tags. These are scattered around the store on items that will not be restocked. You can even check for these items at your local store before you shop, which is especially helpful if you're looking for a specific product.

Women browsing the textiles section of Ikea.

8. You don't shop at the best times

At the worst times, Ikea can be crowded making it near impossible to get close enough to see and touch the product you're interested in. If you want a calmer experience, experts recommend shopping at off hours.

Leslie Rutland, founder of the Seasoned Homemaker blog, writes that she finds the best time to shop is on Saturday evenings between 6 p.m. and the store closing (usually 9 p.m.).

She also points out that July and August can be the busiest times, not only because college freshman and recent grads are rushing to furnish their dorm rooms and new apartments, but also because the latest Ikea catalog is released around then with new products.

While you can avoid many issues by following the tips and tricks above, returns are oftentimes "inevitable," Skirboll says. If you do have returns, she recommends being the first in line at the store to speak with customer service. "Aim to make returns around 10 a.m., so you can discuss your exchange or return face to face with a store associate," she says.

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