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Ikea's Furniture Is Standard, But Its Prices Aren't

Shoppers throughout Europe may find the same selection of clean-lined, modern furniture at their local Ikea, but the prices are not the same. A European consumer organization has created the first 'Ikea Index'.

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Will Ikea parking lots in Poland be filled with cars bearing German license plates? Not necessarily.

For good or bad, Swedish furniture maker Ikea has been credited with the "McDonaldization of the furniture industry". By offering high-style, clean-lined furniture at affordable prices, Ikea has bumped up the style factor in the average home, particularly in Germany, which accounts for 20 percent of the company's total sales. The concept has proven so popular that Ikea's founder, Ingvar Kamprad, temporarily knocked Microsoft founder Bill Gates out of the top spot on the list of the world's richest men earlier this year.

But while Ikea furniture may be synonymous with standardization, the prices at Ikea outlets throughout Europe are anything but, according to a report released on Tuesday by the European Consumer Center (ECC), a Düsseldorf-based consumer advocacy organization and member of the European Consumer Centers Network. The European Union formed the centers to help consumers benefit from the common European market.

Buy your couch in Poland, lamp in the Czech Republic

In its third study comparing Ikea prices, call it the "Big Mac" index of the furniture world, ECC looked at 75 products in 18 countries, including new EU members like Poland and Hungary for the first time.

The center found that the price for the same product varied as much as 72 percent and differed an average of 40 percent. But compared to previous years, the prices in western European countries are becoming increasingly uniform, Theo Wolsing, a project director at the institute, told DW-WORLD.

Despite the harmonization of markets in western Europe, the report showed, bargains can still be found at Ikea warehouses in eastern Europe, particularly in Poland. And that could translate into big savings for neighboring German consumers -- at least those living close to the border.

For example, the popular "Klippen Sofa" model costs € 299 in Germany, while across the border in Poland it costs just €190. Ditto with the "Enetri" shelf, which costs €49.90 in Germany and € 35.83 in Poland. But if it's a deal on a lamp you're after, don't go to Hungary, where the "Steneby" lamp costs € 51.77, but instead to the Czech Republic, where it costs €30.32, almost five euros less than in Germany.

Ikea Tourism?

With pricy gasoline costs and long distances between the Swedish company's trademark blue and yellow furniture warehouses, it is unlikely that a trend of "IKEA tourism" will emerge. But studies like ECC's IKEA index help consumers better compare costs across the common market as well as witness first hand the level of economic integration that's been happening in Europe.

Common market good for consumers

Since it was founded by the European Commission in 2002, the European Consumer Center in Düsseldorf has been publishing reports like the Ikea study and another comparing e-commerce sites and practices across Europe in an effort to promote transparency and help European consumers benefit from the common market.

For most European consumers, the common market has already opened up new doors, Wolsing says.

"There are more advantages than disadvantages," he says. "It's easier to compare prices from country to country, consumers have a larger variety of products on offer, and the Internet has made ordering products from neighboring countries easy and reliable," he points out. What's more, a German purchasing a product from Spain has the same consumer rights as at home, thanks to EU-wide legislation governing such transactions. Savvy consumers casting a wider when comparing prices -- when it comes to furniture or other products, like cars -- may find their efforts pay off.

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