John O' Gorman

Are You Using The IKEA Effect To Help Them Buy?

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

Flat-pack furniture provides a fascinating insight into human behaviour  or more importantly into the behaviour of buyers. It provides a clear warning to sellers – ensure the buyer is involved in the process of defining, building, or tailoring your product, or at least in the process of purchase and justification.

 The IKEA Effect And Buying

The IKEA effect suggests that if you want the buyer to own your solution, or any part of it, then he, or she is going to need to be involved in its creation. That includes the ROI model, pilot or demo, customization and Proposal. If any of these are simply presented to the buyer you have put at risk the vital ingredients of buyer enthusiasm and commitment.

Lets explore why this is called the IKEA Effect (as coined by academics from Harvard and Duke1):

It is not unusual to find a left over screw or two, after assembling flat pack furniture. There may be a crocked leg, or a loose hinge. Your finished piece of work might not withstand the scrutiny of a skilled craftsman. However, because it has been created by our own hands, external criticism will have little impact.

You are proud and protective of the product of your labour  What you have created becomes an extension of your ego. You are likely to be blind to its fault and shortcomings.

The IKEA Effect suggests that: Self-assembly is best. Even when it is not prefect. What you create you own. So, much so that if somebody was to hand you a perfectly completed alternative you’d say no thanks and keep your own. This principle is important in respect of the consultative sale.

How do you bring some aspect of self-assembly (the IKEA effect) into your sale approach?

We say that you ‘cannot hand the buyer a compelling business case’. Quite simply it won’t be compelling unless the buyer is involved in its creation.

Sometimes the joint output with the buyer may not meet your own high standards, its likely to take longer to complete too.  However if the buyer has been involved then the likelihood is that ownership has passed.


IKEA Rule No. 1: Don’t Start What You Can’t Finish

I must confess that a number of DIY projects have gotten the better of me. For example the piece of flat-pack furniture that never completely got assembled and has been consigned to an out of the way place, such as the garage.

In these instances the IKEA effect, works in reverse. I am embarrassed at the sight of my failed efforts. The problem is that it is easy to underestimated how long it would take, or the tools or the patience that would be needed.

For those of us selling to more senior levels (as we are all told to do) this can be a real challenge. It can be difficult to get busy managers to first of all commit and then follow-through on any aspect of DIY in respect of the sale. But it is probably better that they don’t start if they are not going to follow-through. In this way it can become an element of pre-qualification – a means of gauging exactly where the buyer is at in terms of making a decision.

In a recent stalled deals review with a team from a large software vendor, the sellers described the process required for customers to enable the organization to provide a full quote. Quickly I asked ‘how much of the manager’s time does it require?’ The answer was ’10 days!’

Not surprisingly, that is a commitment that was difficult to secure, but once secured dramatically increased the chances of a sale.  It became clear that selling the benefits to the buyer-manager of committing that time was a key priority.  That required formalizing/packaging the process of engagement and its outputs so as to add to the perceived value.

Take a key deal:  Which key decision makers, or stakeholders have not been involved with your solution’s creation/purchase?

We believe that IKEA Rule No. 1 is ‘Don’t Start What You Can’t Finish’. The challenge for the seller is to balance the workload on the buyer, while maintaining a sufficient level of ownership, or involvement.

Key to this is the ability of the senior manager to delegate the more tedious and time-consuming work to more junior colleagues, while maintaining overall visibility and taking credit for the result.


Blind Love As A Sales Obstacle 

We grow to love what we work on, sometimes irrationally and without any objective justification. We may not start off loving it, but that is likely to come over time.

Ask an IT Systems Administrator about the back end administrative system that he has been working on for years and indeed has helped to build, or implement.

Who in the buying organization feels that their idea, project, or creation is under threat from your solution?

Although for an objective outsider the system may be undeniably slow and clunky  with lots of patches and fixes, you can expect the person who helped put it together and kept it going, will at best have mixed feelings about its replacement. Indeed, he, or she may actively resist its replacement.

The IKEA effect makes us blind to reality and protective of our ideas, work and creations.

The seller’s fact find is often aimed at identifying buyer needs and building pain. However, this often entails either directly or indirectly criticizing the buyer’s present strategy, or solution and that can be dangerous.



Put the IKEA effect to work for you and leave your competitors to struggle in the face of the ‘not invented here’ barrier. The fundamental principle of the consultative or complex sale is that that the buyer must have ‘skin in the game’, ‘ownership’, or ‘involvement’.  Your challenge is to make your solution ‘a labour of love’.

With all our focus on the rational-economic justification for the sale, we are continually reminded of the need to balance logic and emotion in the sale.  For more insights on the role of buyer psychology in the sale click here.


For More Information:

1. The “IKEA Effect”: When Labor Leads to Love, Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, Dan Ariely, HBS.

2. Although the IKEA Effect is not new it resurfaces from time to time as for example on NPR recently.


You must be logged in to post a comment Login

The latest research on how buyers buy
Who makes the buying decision