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Confession time. Last weekend I did something so many people detest. Not once but twice. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Two flat packs were assembled with ease, the only cursing when I couldn't immediately find the Phillips head screwdriver. She found it exactly where I said it wouldn't be: on my messy hobby desk in the garage. Of course she did.
"I can't stand flat packs," hisses my old mate Frenchy, before admitting he never bothers reading the instructions and clears the neighbourhood with his foul language as he tries to assemble them.
Ferret, on the other hand, understands my enjoyment. For him, assembling IKEA bookshelves is like an absorbing 3D jigsaw puzzle and the fact there is never a single screw, washer or dowel plug left over - as long as you follow the instructions - is a source of wonder. He's a precise sort of bloke, a stickler for instructions, while his wife, Caroline, insists she'll be fine without them and inevitably runs into problems. That's why Ferret now does all the assembly in his household.
IKEA reckons it's sold 120 million Billy bookcases since it was introduced into its product line in the late 1970s. It's so popular it was relaunched last year. Does that mean the world has finally made peace with the flat pack? Not on your life. They're still as polarising as ever.
The internet is full of forums venting about the dread that accompanies flat pack assembly. Those brave enough to confess they enjoy them? This comment from one forum says it all: "How can anyone 'love' it? You are all very odd."
Flat packs cause so much frustration, an industry has grown in the UK and US where people come to your home and assemble them for you - for a price.
After an IKEA executive suggested women were better at assembling flat packs because they were more organised and read the instructions, a study was undertaken into whether there's a gender divide that governs our tolerance for flat pack assembly. It tested the conventional wisdom that men have greater spatial abilities than women. But the results were inconclusive and the researchers admitted that while men performed better at assembling a particular IKEA product, this could be explained by men being expected to do it better.
I can track my own fondness for flat packs way back to childhood. Meccano sets and Airfix model kits were regulars under the Christmas tree. I learnt that following instructions was fulfilling when the thing I was building actually came together as intended. And my parents learnt that a restless child could be calmed if occupied, even if their fingers ended up stuck together with glue. I still enjoy assembling those model kits and can be happily absorbed for hours working on a complex build.
But, as fine as I am with flat packs, the same can't be said for buying them if that involves stepping into an IKEA labyrinth. They distress me, the same way a stockyard terrifies cattle. Ten minutes in, I'm overwhelmed and can't wait to get out. There's no way I'd linger for the meatballs at the end.
Clear instructions on how to navigate the place without having a meltdown would help. Better still, she does the shopping and I happily do the assembly.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Who assembles the flat packs in your household? Or do you avoid them altogether? Do you follow instructions or try to wing it? Do you dread or relish a visit to IKEA? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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THEY SAID IT: "I'm a great believer in the principle of try it and work it out. If a gadget is designed well, you can easily work out how to use it. But if you can't, it isn't shameful to read the instructions." - James May
YOU SAID IT: Supermarket chains will be dragged before Senate inquiry to explain their huge profits and high prices but not their self-checkouts.
A pensioner, who asks not to be named, writes: "I, unfortunately, need incontinence pads. The ones that I use cost, once upon a time, $8 for a pack. Then, at my local supermarket, the red one, the price jumped to over $9 per pack. Then, surprise, surprise, they are suddenly marked 'Down, Down' to $8.80 per pack. This is not a lie, they were over $9 for a short period but it is a lie when you consider that the price has increased by 10 per cent in less than a year. If you go to one chemists chain, these are available for less than $6 per pack. If the pharmacy can make a profit at less than $6, why do the big green and red supermarkets have to charge better than 40 per cent extra. Gouging in the extreme."
Glenn writes: "I visit Coles and Woolies as needed. They have items Aldi doesn't. Aldi is my preferred but IGA might be a contender but isn't as close to me. My closest Coles has moved in even more self-serve. I have now started travelling a couple of kilometres further to my nearest Woolies in protest but only if Aldi doesn't have what I need. But this small circle proves where we are at a disadvantage. More competition, even if forced, would help us all."
"I've tried to find a way to complain online to Colesworths regarding the sheer awfulness of becoming, without choice, a regular, temporary checkout chap, and the staggering price increases we're all experiencing, and all to no avail," writes David. "That their outlandish profit increases are down to 'efficiencies' is pure horsefeathers. The only way to get a message of complaint through is by snail mail, for which we pay usurious stamp rates at the post office. The grocery duopoly simply doesn't give a stuff."
Allan writes: "I always use self-service checkout, my wife refuses to because it costs jobs. If the big supermarkets want to save heaps of money through self-service, sadly they need to be prepared for some abuse of the system, they'll still be miles in front. I'm scrupulously honest so woe betide any staff member who asks to check the contents of my basket. I worry not just about the pricing of the big guys but also about the way they're mercilessly screwing their suppliers, especially our poor farmers."
"Hate both Coles and Woolworths, as both are robbing us blind," writes Jacqui. "Self-service checkouts are just another way for them to make more money at the expense of the consumer. I try to shop at Aldi when possible but unfortunately they don't always stock everything I need, so inevitably I end up in either Coles or Woolies."
Karis dislikes self checkouts: "I avoid the machines as they make mistakes and dehumanise."
"I flatly refuse to use self-service checkouts," writes Elaine. "Not only are they annoying, as you demonstrate, they do people out of jobs, a very important factor in the country town where I live. Even our Aldi has succumbed to this menace! Indeed, if I am standing in a staffed checkout queue and the supervisor tries to direct shoppers to the self service machines I have been known to say in a loud voice: 'No, I have a philosophical objection to self service: I want to keep people in jobs!' Not only do I get a grateful smile from the checkout operator, others in the queue agree with me (but they don't, sadly, speak up!) As for price gouging, don't get me started! Items don't jut creep up by 10 per cent they leap frog by 20-25 per cent! There are certain products I only buy on special, the price they used to be, as any canny shopper will do. And why should a laundry product that used to cost $4 now cost $7? That's price gouging."
Chas writes: "Customer service is a thing of the distant past with the customer wearing the cost and big business reaping the profits. It's not just Coles and Woolies; it started last century with the emergence of self-service at petrol stations, worked its way up to the banks. When was the last time you saw all the teller stations in a larger branch with a teller them, or a branch with more than two tellers on duty? Now self-checkouts predominate at the major grocery stores. It is only a matter of time before checkout chicks become a extinct species. Bouquets to IGA who have not yet engaged with this trend and now get my custom. Love your work, it is much needed!"
"A friend made the observation that he must be getting stronger in his old age as he can now lift $100 of groceries in one hand," writes Paul.
Garry writes: "Every time I use the self-service I come undone. Just too many stages of each transaction plus errors in the system don't help. Weirdly at Coles Lakehaven, for example, you might see a lane open but every self service machine taken or out of service. At Woolies at Tuggerah, some time ago, they had zero lanes open except for customer service (so they could sell cigarettes) after 8pm. We had no choice but to stop going there. I've even started going to IGA and Foodworks where there is always someone to help and the checkouts are never neglected. Yes there can be higher prices but I'd rather be happy shopping there where it seems to me that the workers are also happy to look after you."