Always Check Your Receipts

IKEA opened in Portland recently. I’d never been to IKEA before, but had heard that it’s a great place to pick up inexpensive furniture and gadgets for the home. One recent Friday afternoon, Kris and I decided to go on a date to the new store. Not very romantic, perhaps, but oh-so-practical.

IKEA stores are huge. Each one is laid out like a giant maze. You don’t browse aisles, but instead walk from the start of the maze to the end. Along the way, you pass through dozens of demo rooms (and several entire demo apartments!). Each room is decked out with furniture and fixtures that you can buy in the store. There are also display areas in which you can see, for example, all the different bookshelf models at once.

While browsing, you jot down part numbers for the items you like. At the end of the maze, you enter a large warehouse where you can pick up kits for these products. This is key: all IKEA furniture is build-it-yourself.

We hadn’t intending to buy anything, but of course I left with a new bookcase and Kris picked up some kitchen gadgets and a yard of fabric. We were in a hurry to pay, though, because I wasn’t feeling well. “Did we really spend three hours in there?” I asked as we drove home. “No wonder I feel sick.”

On Saturday morning I opened Quicken to do my weekly finances. While entering the IKEA receipt I was dismayed to find that we had been charged not for one yard of fabric, but ten. That’s a $53.91 difference. I phoned the store to ask for a credit, but nobody answered.

Instead, we had to drive 40 minutes back to northeast Portland, wait in line for half an hour, and then drive 40 minutes home. We cursed ourselves for being so careless — we’re both usually good about checking receipts. But because I’d been feeling ill, we hadn’t bothered.

It’s surprising, actually, how often receipts don’t match transactions. It’s an excellent habit to check yours before leaving the store when possible. There are a variety of things that might go wrong:

  • As in our recent trip to IKEA, you might be overcharged.
  • You might also be undercharged, and have to point out errors to the checker. (I’ve found that sometimes a store won’t even bother to fix a small error if it’s in the customer’s favor.)
  • You might be charged for a completely different item. Computerized databases speed transactions, but they’re not foolproof.
  • Sale prices may not register. This is actually fairly common, especially at the supermarket. If you’re after a particularly good deal, be sure you’re paying what you expected.

You don’t have to hold up store traffic to check your receipt. Stand to one side and scan it briefly for any obvious errors. This is especially important when you’re making large purchases. Checking receipts is an easy way to keep the money that belongs to you!

p.s. By the way, we liked IKEA. The stuff was inexpensive and easy to assemble. We’ll be back. And next time we’ll check our receipt!

[photo by OiMax]

29 comments

  1. Hmm… I know you said you weren’t feeling well but I wouldn’t have needed to check the receipt to recognize a $50+ mistake at checkout. As soon as they said, “Your total is…” I would have said, “Whoa! Say what?”

  2. IKEA is great for minor stuff like utensils, curtains and clip-on lights, but for things like beds and bookcases I’d go somewhere else. I see IKEA furniture out in the trash or in the Free section of Craigslist too often to pay good money for it, however cheap it might be relative to Sears. But then again, what I don’t get for free those ways, I buy used or antique at auction, anyway, which lets me have it for the REAL fair market value, not at the retailer’s cost + profit. It might cost more, but remember what Warren Buffett said: cost is what you pay; value is what you get.

  3. I sort of agree with handworn, but then again, sort of not. Ikea is great when you need it. We bought a very cheap, demo couch when we moved and were expecting a first kid (many years ago). We threw it out about 8+ years and another baby later. That $200-300 couch served its purpose — and even a couch built like a rock would have had to have been reupholstered after 8 years of spills and baby spit-up and the occasional renegade marker and all.

    *Then* we bought the couch we intend to have forever.

    Same with the bookshelves — and yes, you see Ikea stuff passed around a lot — but you also see it getting re-used. Our neighbors left us their bookshelves when they moved to England 8 years ago. They aren’t the best ever, but they’re still holding those books up!

  4. It’s funny you mentioned that, because I too get sick in Ikea. I like their furniture, but I can’t be in a store more then half an hour or so before I’m sick to my stomach. I say it’s something in the varnish (although the Ikea furniture I have in the house doesn’t bug me), my friends say it’s some sort of ultrasonic pest control system they use to control rodents.

    Either way, I can’t shop there.

  5. Regarding IKEA as a date, I really like their food court. Its relatively cheap. Usually if I go there I will plan on having dinner their and picking up some groceries like lindonberry spread (forgot it its a jelly, jam, or preserve).

    Also if you know the store layout well enough, you can cut through the maze to get to where you want to go faster.

  6. Did you try the Swedish Meatballs? That may be why you didn’t feel well. It’s a lot like the Polish Dogs at Costco, they look good, taste good, but afterward, you wish you hadn’t.

  7. It’s a lot like the Polish Dogs at Costco…

    Dylan, I never regert the Polish Dogs at Costco. And only 4$1.50! Yum. 🙂

  8. Mr_obvious had the same idea I had. I try to estimate my bill before I get to the register so I know if something didn’t come up on sale or the price I thought it was. I have no problem holding up the line if I’m charged incorrectly.

    This is a really important at Christmas. There are always sales and part time cashiers that may type in the wrong thing, and everyone is in a rush.

    It’s another lesson learned.

  9. There’s an IKEA in Portland now? I’m definitely going to check it out next time I’m up that way!

  10. Usually both Jd and I are pretty good at estimating the total before we get to the register. In this case, however, I think both of us just figured that the “other person” spent a lot more than we thought! And, I must admit we were both pretty focused on our next stop: warm cinnamon rolls at the IKEA cafe.

  11. Here’s the secret to buying furniture at Ikea: look for the solid pine pieces. I have two nightstands, a dresser, a bookcase, and a kitchen hutch in solid pine and they’re still in excellent shape. The pressboard furniture doesn’t hold up well and feels flimsy, but their pine furniture is built to last. It’s slightly more than the pressboard stuff, but not by much.

  12. Nice angle for IKEA photo! Did you intentionally block the letters partially by the flags? Just a stupid thought! Probably, ignore me.

  13. Also, don’t lose your receipt for Ikea. They won’t even give you store credit half the time if you don’t have one. Like the stuff doesn’t say ‘Ikea’ all over it.

  14. I usually do not check receipts, but I DO watch while my purchases are being scanned to make sure the right thing is being entered.
    I have many times gotten corrected sale prices right then instead of finding it later and going back to get the difference.

  15. The other reason to check your IKEA receipt is that using a debit card generates a small rebate that can be used on a future purchase (plus, you can collect receipts and use several at one time).

  16. I’ve found their customer service to be fantastic. A couple years ago, I bought a bunch of furniture from their Seattle store. I live in a high-rise, so it’s a pain to park, obtain the elevator key from the manager, etc. I got a knock on the door and they had done all this and proceeded to bring everything right into my living room. Pretty cool.

    When assembling the bed, I discovered one of the holes was misaligned. Great, I thought, I’ll have to hassle with the Seattle store, etc. Instead I emailed and they sent me a new bed frame (a large item, obviously) via FedEx, without any prompting. Basically, “I’m sorry that didn’t work, we’ll send another one out to you. We have your address.” Who does that?

  17. I love IKEA but haven’t been since we moved to the south. I only have a few things from them and noticed the other day the bookcase is leaning to the left – may be time to replace it.

    I got charged for a totally different item at Target once – walking out to the car I looked at the receipt and noticed it. Very odd especially since we were charged for all of our items and then that one was mysteriously added!

  18. Thanks, Jon, for your story. I recently bought quite a bit for my new house at the IKEA in Minneapolis, including a stoneware teapot I had wanted for a while. Imagine my dismay when I got home to Ohio and the pot cracked on the bottom after using it only a couple of times! It’s 2 hours to the nearest IKEA, and I was thinking I’d have to go, and soon, to return it. I’ll try emailing them first.

  19. JD,

    Consider yourself lucky.

    Each time I’ve visited the IKEA in Pittsburgh, PA, what’s on display is out of stock in their warehouse. It has happened to me every single time.

    I wanted a coffee table, it was out of stock, I wanted the King bed, the slats were out of stock, the kids writing table, same thing.

    Now, I go in the reverse order. My wife checks upstairs and I check downstairs simultaneously to save time.

    All said and done, I like the concept and the store – my daughter loves the ballroom too.

  20. If you are going to check your receipts now that you’ve been reminded to do so by this post, then you should also remember to check the daily average interest charge on your credit card bill, too.

  21. I get sick in IKEA too, but I feel nauseous after a while in any big box store – it’s too overwhelming and too many people. I do think they are good for cheap stuff though, and I like the fact that they get all of their wood from sustainable sources.

    Handworn, a lot of times when you see IKEA stuff for free, in the trash or on Craigslist it’s because the people are moving out of town and it’s cheaper to buy new stuff than to pay to have the stuff shipped to your new address. I found this to be the case when I moved to San Francisco to New York. I’d recommend not putting it in the trash though, someone can always use it, especially if it’s in good condition.

  22. It happened to me in Target once. While I got a game for my son, I was billed for two of the same item. However I had to go to customer service even though I spotted it right before leaving the store! And neither the person at the billing counter nor the customer service clerk had any apologies to offer!

  23. Historically, I’ve had good luck with IKEA products. However, I recently bought a dresser there, and the boxes did not contain over 100 items of hardware (screws, mini-dowels, etc.) necessary to put the thing together.

    Fortunately, the IKEA is here in the same town, but I know many people trek into a nearby city to shop at IKEA. I could go back to the store relatively easy to get the additional items, but many people could not.

    Bummer on your outrageous overcharge! It does pay to keep an eye on the cashier and receipt while in the store (or shortly afterwards).

  24. Ikea is notorious for charging for too many items, or the wrong price. Nearly every time my wife and I go we get stuck waiting at customer service for a correction on our purchase. It is understandable for mistakes to occur, but if it happens to us that often, imagine how frequently they do it!

  25. I have bought only three pieces of furniture at IKEA, and all were chosen because they’re ridiculously sturdy — my computer desk being the best desk I’ve ever had. As Erin suggested, the desk’s surface is solid pine, and extremely rugged. I’ve bought a lot of small stuff there of varying qualities, too. I always test the sample pieces as thoroughly as I can, to make sure that I’m getting exactly what I need. Overall I like IKEA, and their cinnamon bun and coffee special can’t be beat!

    Also, no discussion of IKEA is complete without my favorite IKEA commercial:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I07xDdFMdgw

  26. IKEA – “ridiculously sturdy”? Talk about an oxymoron! While I concede that IKEA has it’s place in retail, I wouldn’t use it for much more than throw away kids and college furnishings.

    Some of the lighting and accessories are nice, and we have had good luck with an orchid. I’d just stay away from anything over 25 bucks.

    And IKEA’s founder: stingiest man on the planet. It makes me cringe to think what his $36 billion foundation could solve if they would put it to good use. Instead of improving the human condition, his money is earmarked for design.

    http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=6919139

  27. Wanted to give a shout out to Ikea
    Purchased a bed 15 years ago and it is still going strong…one piece (box/mattress) and heavy, but it still works great.

    Same for several bookshelfs…I can not say enough good about the quality…if I could buy stock inthe company I would.

    Needed to weigh in to counter some of the negative experiences above. NO, its not Ethan Allen, but you want that, then pay for it. It is decent quality at a decent price.

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