Last year when we bought our new place, it was pretty obvious we couldn’t keep our old furniture. We sold it and then saved a little money until we had a furniture fund. Then I started looking around town to see what it would buy. Guess what? Not much. I have modern, simple taste. Finding things I liked in the sea of mocha dinette sets and La-Z-Boy recliners in this town wasn’t easy. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if I could buy some pieces from IKEA? The only problem: They don’t ship to Alaska.
Soon I became obsessed. The new catalog had just come out, and I looked through it over and over. (Look! Here’s a link to this year’s catalog. Looks great on an iPad. Soooooo tempting.) There had to be a way. Even with pretty hefty shipping charges, sofas in particular would still be cheaper and cuter that what I could find in town. But how?
In the end, I did it twice. And I got cute furniture and saved money. But it was WAY, SUPER, CRAZY hard. That said, it felt great to actually get the furniture here. I WON THE LAME WE-DON’T-SHIP-TO-ALASKA BATTLE! You can, too.
If you’re going to do this, get your head in the right place. You are on your own. IKEA for Alaskans is a customer-service-free environment. You are a furniture-buying soldier going into hostile territory. You’re going to need self-reliance, endurance and persistence. Nobody is going to check that you have all the pieces you need. Those “Can I help?” buttons the IKEA people wear are not talking to you. They can’t help. If you call a number listed online, you will be on hold for a century, and whoever answers will NEVER have the information you need, but they will be happy to transfer you to voicemail that no one checks.
Not scared? Read on.
To begin: You have to find a freight-forwarding company willing to ship IKEA. IKEA does a terrible job packing their freight, so the forwarder I used successfully twice, Pacific Alaska Freightways, quit shipping their stuff. I called around and found two companies that will still ship to residential customers (businesses have other options). Alaska Traffic does. They have a receiving warehouse about three blocks from IKEA outside Seattle and they do it all the time, said a woman I talked to on the phone. And Carlile said they have some options as well. There are others, too.
Get a shipping quote before you go. (This will help you figure out if it’s cheaper than a couch you can buy in town.) Every item in the catalog is also listed online. You can look it up and find the weight and dimensions of the boxes it comes in. You MUST have those two pieces of information to get a quote. Here’s the tab to look for below:
The absolute best/cheapest thing to do is to actually go to IKEA when you go to Seattle for some other reason and rent a good-sized vehicle. You’ll get the widest selection that way. And you won’t pay lots of extra fees.
If you plan to actually go, and you have a big order like I did, you should plan to go twice. Before you go, measure your spaces and look carefully though the catalog so you don’t get lost. And, use the website to check and see if what you want is in stock at the store. The IKEA store is set up like a Swedish-designed psychological experiment involving rats. It’s a maze full of colorful distractions. If you don’t have a plan, you get trapped and can’t find a way out until you’re sweaty and crazy and so weak you will eat their weird meatballs. HAVE A PLAN. ALSO: You will never leave with all the parts you need. Ever. This is a law.
On the second time you go, you can get your missing parts and return the stuff that you bought that was broken. The biggest perk about actually going to the store is that when you buy the stuff, you can show your ID and avoid paying sales tax. (More on this later.) And, if you have a big enough car, you can just drive it to the shipper and you’ll be golden.
All you need then is a truck in Anchorage/Fairbanks to pick up the stuff when it comes in (the shippers usually offer delivery too, for a fee) and a couple of hours of assembly time. (Pro-tip: Assemble alone, without your significant other. That way you can only blame yourself when you are taking the couch apart with janky, odd-sized allen wrenches and putting it back together because you did it backward. Also: This is one of the few types of activities that wine does not help.)
But, maybe you won’t have a big-enough car to haul a couch to the warehouse. In that case, IKEA will deliver to the shipper three blocks away and charge you $50. I did this once, paying all fees, and even then it was still cheaper than buying a similar couch in Anchorage. They will also put your stuff on a pallet and wrap it in plastic. Sometimes they charge for this, sometimes they do not. Be super careful to check that everything makes it on the pallet.
Don’t want to fly to Seattle? The swanky couch with a name you can’t pronounce can STILL be yours. Many furniture pieces can be bought online and delivered to the shipper. I have done this. If the piece is at the Seattle store, the delivery charge will likely be pretty reasonable. Here’s the lame thing: If you buy online, you will be charged Washington sales tax. I don’t think there is a way around it. They say they will pay you back if you send a copy of your ID and proof that the item went to Alaska. But, though I tried super hard to actually do this, it never happened. I was once on hold for AN HOUR. I sent faxes and emails. Finally I gave up. Here’s what is nuts: Even with the tax, and the delivery fees, it was still cheaper than buying the same kind stuff in town!
And every time I sit down on it, I still feel smug.
Good luck. And, I’m by no means an expert on this. If you’ve got IKEA shipping tips, PLEASE share them in the comments!