Sales sky-rocket for store despite coronavirus
The car park is busy, the trolleys are full and there are the usual grumbles in the checkout queues from customers who feel they've had to wait far too long.
"Look at this place, it's full," says one, his mouth obscured by a face mask. "You'd think they'd put on some more staff."
During one of the worst retail spending slumps in recent history, having to deal with too many customers is a problem most stores would beg to have.
This isn't a supermarket; nor is it a liquor store or Bunnings. This is Friday lunchtime at a Sydney Ikea in the middle of a pandemic.
It's in stark contrast to a nearby major shopping centre which is eerily empty.
New PayPal research has revealed that Australians in lockdown are increasingly shunning the big malls and rediscovering their local shopping strips instead, as they go to stores within walking distance of home.
With only 10 Australian stores, Ikea certainly isn't within walking distance of most people. But it's arguably an essential service - we all need pots, pans and pillows - and it's possibly the closest to a day out many of us can currently enjoy without risking a fine.
At the Tempe store in Sydney's inner west - directly below the now far quieter flight path into Kingsford Smith Airport - the car park was heaving before noon.
But there were no queues to get in, as has been the case at many supermarkets. The store is so huge that signs at the entrance state it can happily swallow 1500 socially distancing shoppers. There aren't that many inside, but there is constant throughput of customers.
Another sign reminds people that only groups of two people or fewer should be mooching among the kitchen displays and rugs. Gaggles of home furnishing fans bouncing on beds will not be tolerated.
RADIAL STAFF SOCIAL DISTANCING SOLUTION
An analysis of debit and credit card transactions by Commonwealth Bank found sales of home furnishing were up 10 per cent on this time last year as people nest and use their down time to spruce up the home. Along with food, it's the only retail category to see a rise in sales.
Sales of clothing are down a massive 58 per cent.
At Ikea there are reminders things aren't quite right. Smaland, the children playground, is closed. As is the restaurant where hundreds of chairs are stacked up waiting for the day people can dive into a plate of meatballs again.
You can still get a $1 hot dog on the way out, but you can't pour the mustard yourself.
Yellow-shirted Ikea staff are still at hand. But they are in make shift social distancing pens, barricaded in by tape and hastily moved sofas and tables - easy to do in a furniture store.
One customer in a mask talks to a staff member in a mask about a bed he wants to buy. The conversation taking place either side of a Vimle sofa, a kind of no man's land that must not be crossed between the two.
IKEAS CLOSED IN MANY COUNTRIES
A spokeswoman for the firm told news.com.au Ikea had seen a sales spike in home office furniture, particularly desks and chairs. Bookcases, laptop stands, storage boxes, children's furniture and, for some reason, mirrors were also popular.
Australia is a bright spot for Ikea. Not because we like furniture any more than anywhere else, but because it can still open.
In many of Ikea's biggest markets - the US, UK, France - its stores have been forced to close during tough lockdown restrictions.
The car parks of several British branches are now a drive through coronavirus testing centres.
Not in its native Sweden, however. There the government has controversially decided to allow life to continue much the same as usual meaning Ikea can trade.
SEVENTY IN LINE TO PAY
In Sydney, most Ikea customers are doing their best to glide through the store apart from each other.
The check-outs are a bit more on the chaotic side. Despite it being only lunchtime on a weekday, the queues are backing up.
About 70 people in total are in three queues snaking into the warehouse.
Some people are doing better than others at keeping their social distance. A few seem unable to resist the urge to narrow the gap.
Ikea said it has put in place a range of initiatives including contactless click and collect.
"Everyday life is currently different, and the situation continues to change," the spokeswoman said.
"As we continue to monitor the situation closely, we are taking all actions and precautions throughout our entire business based on frequently updated recommendations from the Australian Government."
SHOPPING CENTRES' STRUGGLE
Down the road at the Westfield Sydney shopping centre, the lights are on and the music is playing but there is barely a soul to be seen. The fashion stores that are its bread and butter have mostly given up the ghost for a bit.
The nearby historic Queen Victoria Building, opened by Vicinity Centres, is stuffed to the gills with fancy brands that have also closed. It is now mostly a very ornate thoroughfare to Town Hall station.
Further into the suburbs, things are a little better. Westfield Burwood has a few supermarkets, fresh food stores and a McDonald's that is bringing people in. But you can hear a pin drop in the part of the centre which used to hum to rhythm of clothing stores.
Earlier this month Peter Allen, chief executive officer of Scentre Group, which operates Australia's Westfield malls, was frank when he said "our centres look and feel very different to what they did in early March".
The company said 89 per cent of its retailers were still allowed to trade but only 39 per cent actually were. He called on retailers to reopen stores, particularly as some could get their staffing costs paid through the government's JobKeeper allowance.
This week the company launched Westfield Direct that lets customers purchase products online from multiple Westfield retailers in one order and then collect them via a contactless drive-through at their local centre.
Down the road at Burwood Plaza, things are busier. Arguably it's the less snazzy of the Sydney suburb's two shopping centres but its unfashionable mix of a supermarket, $2 homeware shop, newsagent, shoe repairers and mobile phone store is in fashion right now. Many are independently owned, providing the everyday essentials everyone is looking for.
Nearby suburban main streets are having something of a mini boom as locals only shop for what they need.
It backs up research from PayPal that has shown 82 per cent of Australians have radically changed their shopping habits since COVID-19 measures kicked in.
Almost 40 per cent of us are now only shopping locally.
"From what we've seen, this is being driven by Australians wanting to support their small business community by shopping locally during these tough times," PayPal Australia's Alison O'Brien told news.com.au.
She urged small business owners to set up a shopfront online, join a marketplace like eBay or Etsy, and ramp up their social media presence now that a third of people have stated they are currently exclusively shopping online except for groceries.
Back at Ikea, the car park continues to fill up as Australians spend their downtime and their dollars doing up the spare room, kitting out the kitchen or maybe just getting a takeaway hot dog.
Originally published as Store doing roaring trade despite lockdown