B is for buying Billy in Beijing

We’re back in Beijing after spending some weeks in the UK, and when I was unpacking I decided the time had come to tackle the lack of bookshelf space in our apartment.

Obviously what we needed was a Billy or two. 

I’m sure you know Billy (you probably have at least one Billy in your home if not more) it is THE best-selling bookcase in the world.  Since it was designed in 1979 over 50 MILLION Billies have been sold, and if you lined them up end-to-end they would probably stretch from the north to south pole and back again with several to spare. And as IKEA are churning them out at the rate of 3.1 million each year eventually they will end up reaching to the moon.

So it was off to Beijing’s one and only branch of IKEA.   The Chinese name for IKEA is  Yi Jia Jia Ju (宜家家具) but most people just call it yíjiā” (宜家) which is pronounced ee-gee-ah and which roughly translates as ‘affordable home’.  China now has 11 IKEA stores and plans to have 18 by 2015.

Now I consider myself something of an IKEA afficionado, this year I have shopped in IKEA on three different continents – in Scotland and London, in San Francisco and in Beijing. What is remarkable is how absolutely identical they are in every way.  The exterior is the same, the products are the same, the layout is much the same (doesn’t it bug you that IKEA makes you go to the top of the store and work your way down when you know that whatever you have come in to buy is on the ground floor?) but the stores in China have one major difference – their customers.

When you go into IKEA here in Beijing (or anywhere else in China) you soon notice that all the beds on display seem to

have someone sleeping in them, and the room ‘sets’ are occupied by Chinese families looking very much at home, reading the paper, chatting on their mobile phones, playing with the kids.

Young women pose in front of suitably modern backgrounds for their boyfriends to photograph them, and the senior citizens congregate in the restaurant area where a lively lonely-hearts club is well established.

The stores offer free coffee to anyone who has an IKEA Family loyalty card, and this has meant an influx of elderly singles who come in as soon as the doors open, bringing their own snacks (no Swedish meatballs for them!) – the company management seem incredibly laid-back about all this, despite their security guards sometimes having to break-up serious altercations which have arisen when two old gents are both chatting up the same lady!

You won’t be surprised to learn that in this country which has faked everything from Rolex watches to Burberry raincoats, someone has faked an IKEA store. A whole enormous fake IKEA, the effort beggars belief.  It is in the city of Kunming which is in Yunnan province in the far south.

Oh well, they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
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3 Responses to B is for buying Billy in Beijing

  1. Marj says:

    Interesting – love the images of families relaxing in the bedrooms etc. Guess your Billy is already well stacked?

  2. Kit says:

    On desperate rainy days when I was still in London with two small kids, sometimes I used to head to IKEA in Croydon, just to let them play in the children’s section for an hour or so – plenty of room for running around. So it doesn’t surprise me that the Chinese are happily moving into their ikeas – I guess I might have lain down on a bed and gone to sleep too, if I hadn’t been too politely English!

  3. Sheila Taylor says:

    This is hilarious – I spent a few hours trailing round Ikea with Nick two Saturdays ago. I didn’t see anyone asleep but I think next time I have to go there I might lie down for a little snooze and see what happens! By the way we have 4 Billys in our family!

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