Understanding the Hype Around the Biggest IKEA in the World

“It was like Disneyland… I’m so ashamed of myself, but I really enjoyed it.”
People flocked to the Philippines’ first IKEA store. Photo: Courtesy of IKEA

When photographer Miguel Nacianceno signed up to go to the opening of IKEA’s first-ever store in the Philippines, he was looking forward to buying a nice set of glassware for his kitchen. Maybe a lamp, too. But when he arrived at the five-story, 700,000 square foot building in Metro Manila’s Pasay City, he was shocked to see the sheer volume of people crowding the area. 


Once he stepped inside, his suspicions were confirmed.

“Ordinarily, [the showrooms] would be spacious, but at the rate they were going, I was beside somebody at all times,” Nacianceno told VICE. 

So, he clutched his face mask and ran to the exit. 

Nacianceno is just one of many eager Filipinos who awaited the launch of IKEA’s store in the Philippines, billed as the Swedish furniture giant’s largest store in the world. While he couldn’t bear to be in close quarters with fellow shoppers because of the pandemic, many others didn’t seem to mind. 

“With the pandemic, I was telling myself, ‘I’m not going to go until the hype is over,’ but when [IKEA] emailed me and told me I could reserve a slot, I actually went for it,” architect Arlene Maslog told VICE. “Of course, I was there on the first day. So funny. But I was so excited I actually forgot there was COVID.” 

Like Nacianceno and Maslog, many were thrilled when it was announced that IKEA was opening a store in the Philippines. There were rumors about it for years, until the expansion was made official in 2018, an announcement that instantly went viral. 

Earlier this year, closer to the official launch date, the IKEA Family website crashed, reportedly due to the surge of Filipinos trying to sign up to join the loyalty club. Now, with the physical store finally open, slots to secure an appointment to visit the branch are immediately booked. But why? 


“I think, for those who’ve traveled and visited IKEAs elsewhere, it’s cool. Easy to be a fan,” Nacianceno said. 

While certain IKEA furniture have been criticized for using low-quality materials and breaking easily, many are still attracted to their designs and price points. To some, it’s an alternative to generic brands found online; to others, it’s a way to achieve Pinterest mood boards and Instagram aesthetics without spending too much. 

“[IKEA] makes everything so accessible, especially from a consumer standpoint,” said furniture designer Pierre Kayser Go. “It’s good because it’s well-designed and it does fit a certain aesthetic.”

Maslog, for instance, bought a shoe rack and a bench during her trip to the new IKEA store. Things that she “could not find locally” that were meant to replace “flimsy” versions she bought online. 

But many have noted how this newfound convenience for consumers could be detrimental to local artisans. 

“From a business standpoint, I think it’s really going to kill a lot of local suppliers, like those who are in the same price range,” Go said, explaining how it’s difficult for local suppliers, especially those selling fast furniture, to compete with IKEA products in terms of build and supply. 

“I love IKEA small pieces, like lighting fixtures, storage bins, glassware. But I’m also worried about local furniture companies. I don’t see myself as a total IKEA fan, but appreciate the convenience,” Nacianceno said. 


Maslog agrees that IKEA’s arrival would likely impact the local furniture industry but thinks high-end furniture companies will be unaffected. 

And the hype is not just about the furniture. 

Thanks in large part to social media, IKEA is now ubiquitous. You hear about it from vloggers and friends of friends who visited a store when they traveled. People post time-lapse videos of their DIY home renovations and photos of meatballs in sauce like they do with their In-N-Out burgers. Now, Philippine TikTok is filled with influencers sharing their IKEA experience and giving tips to would-be shoppers. 

This made IKEA a recognizable brand in the Philippines even before its expansion to the country, and the image of an IKEA shopper was well-known, too: After walking through the maze of showrooms, you eat the famed meatballs to cap it all off. It’s such a big part of the experience that in the Philippines, there’s an anthropomorphic mascot called “Tito Ball” (Uncle Ball). 

“When it opened, the people flocked more to the food, to the restaurant. That’s another thing about Pinoys. [IKEA] is really tailor-fit for Filipinos because we love to shop and we love to eat, and IKEA has both,” Maslog said. 

The hype is similar to those over other international brands that set up shop in the country. In the past, Filipinos lined up for hours when the likes of Shake Shack and H&M opened. And it’s not just in the Philippines; IKEA opened to similar fanfare in India and New Zealand

To many, it’s not just a store, but a shared experience. 

“It was like Disneyland. It was just a happy event. It was so much fun to be had there during the opening. I’m so ashamed of myself, but I really enjoyed it,” Maslog said. 

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