IKEA Comes to Kazakhstan

by Joshua Foust on 1/22/2008 · 9 comments

IKEA, the discount Swedish retailer which furnished a swath of my apartment, is opening two stores in Kazakhstan—one in Astana, and one in Almaty. Ben notes the many positive spillover effects this move should bring to the country, despite the fact that far too many people will find even IKEA too expensive, and despite the much longer and more problematic supply chain (think of the woes Lufthansa faced with overflight rights with Russia).

IKEA, of course, has several exciting options for how to outfit the stores. I’m not the store’s biggest fan (it seriously feels Soviet, at least the dumpy ones around DC), though I understand and have made use of its appeal—mega-cheap furniture. In Britain, the locals have made use of retired Gurkhas to guard one particularly crime-ridden store. In China, locals can buy nearly-identical knock-offs for half the price. But the biggest IKEA nightmare of them all is surely Tokyo. Observes the inimitable Jeff Percefield:

[It] the sort of living Hell I can’t even imagine. The only thing worse than that endless sanitized particle board purgatory of Muzak & bad furniture in hallucinatory rooms that keep opening, one into another, like a series of Chinese boxes, would be some Bladerunner-noir Ikea wormhole with sushi bars, Yakuza wives, harajuku girls whose sneers can draw blood, & everywhere tense, compact nuclear clusters of Japanese, of all the people on the planet the ones most likely to be an alien infiltration, who bark sharply at each other in inscrutable cadences that aren’t even Indo-European, but turn sinister halogen smiles on foreigners, smiles that say I see you but you can’t see me, monkey boy, & conceal not just centuries of clannish isolation but a secret smoldering, fuel-efficient flame for world, if not galactic, domination…

I’m sure IKEA will do well in Kazakhstan, however.

See Also: IKEAphobia

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Jamie Hollis January 22, 2008 at 8:18 pm

There was an “Ikea” in Bishkek two summers ago that even had a few authentic Ikea place mats and other such odds and ends in a new mall (quite expensive). They had blown up the Ikea logo and had it hanging on the outside of the mall towards the street, but it was gone this last summer. My husband and I ate at a cafe, however, that had what looked like legitimate Ikea silverware, it was good quality (relatively speaking) with the brand (spelled correctly) discreetly on the back-where they got them-I don’t know…maybe Moscow?

Nathan January 22, 2008 at 8:25 pm

OK, so I’m not a huge fan of a lot of IKEA’s furniture, but I do like a lot of their stuff. I suppose this news says there’s more prestige (certainly not that there’s more business sense…) in putting in stores in the heart of Asia than there is in putting in a store in the interior of the US. I think Denver is the only major US metro area farther from an IKEA than mine is. And that’s just barely because for some reason, there’s one in Utah.

Jamiyat January 22, 2008 at 8:30 pm

I can see now Uzbeks heading North to buy furniture to be given as a gift for their newlywed children.

Dolkun January 22, 2008 at 10:09 pm

“… far too many people will find even IKEA too expensive.”

Compared to what? the traditional outfitting of a yurt? Consumer goods including furniture are outrageously expensive in Kazakhstan; I’m sure Ikea will have a line around the block for some time to come who would gladly pay $300 for a cheap Swedish sofa than $900 for a Belarussian deathdivan.

KZBlog January 23, 2008 at 2:49 am

What is lacking in the Kazakhstan consumer market is mid-priced quality stuff. Especially furniture. IKEA should be able to provide that niche. When outfitting our house, we could have bought a piece of crap pressed board shelf unit for like $500 or an Italian handcrafted walnut unit for like $3000. I would kill to pay $1000 for a decent, long-lasting nice looking piece of furniture.
And trust me the people of Astana and Almaty are willing to put out a LOT of money to decorate their apartments. They already dropped 500 000 bucks to buy a 1-bedroom flat.

That being said,
Dolkum: I highly recomend ZETA for couches. It’s a Kazakhstan firm and their couches are not too expensive and very nice.

brian January 23, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Will they still have cheap Sweedish meatballs and $0.99 breakfast?

David February 5, 2008 at 11:37 pm

IKEA is investing $500 mln in Kazakhstan ($250mln in each city: Astana and Almaty). I think, this is a great thing which Kazakhstan market long deserved. Furniture prices are ridiculously expensive, while quality and style is low and outdated as it is brought mainly from China and the UAE, but sold as Italian. It will also drive prices down, I believe. Although, most of the furniture stores are empty anyway as smart shoppers would likely to go overseas and buy cheaper furniture there. A friend of mine, local in Kazakhstan, thinks that most of these over-priced furniture stores are opened not for money making, but for money laundering as their true owners are usually government officials or people who made quick bucks on oil and gas sales. Since they can’t show their true income sources, they hide them as “profits” from furniture stores, boutiques, and jewelery stores.

Emanuel March 1, 2008 at 3:28 pm

This is just great! I live in KZ and I am from Sweden. Just today we were at IKEA and did some shopping for our housing in KZ. No need anylonger I assume! They are truly good and considering that “everybody” is “remonting” their homes they will do well I think! Go IKEA!

erik May 1, 2008 at 2:17 am

Hi Is that true the Ikea Store is opening in Almaty and Astana

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