Retail therapy

Nathan Smith
Insights Newsletter
18 September, 2020

Back in March, the World Happiness Index 2020 placed New Zealand eighth with a score of 7.3, tucked between Austria and Sweden. Every country ranking higher was Nordic (aside from Switzerland) and I notice they also have plenty of Ikea stores.

That same month, the Swedish flatpack retail giant told journalists it hasn’t changed its plans to open a few stores in New Zealand. The year started off so well.

That got me thinking: if the RMA process hadn’t blocked Ikea from opening in Auckland back in 2008, and Christchurch recovery tsar Gerry Brownlee the role Ikea might play in supplying cheap furniture for rebuilt homes, maybe 2020 would be less miserable? Who needs kindness when you’ve got happiness?

I won’t take credit for it, but someone has created a scatterplot correlating the happiness index with Ikea stores per capita. They had to exclude Sweden for obvious outlier reasons, but the results speak for themselves.

Ikea Happiness Index Graph 002 

Canadians have far too few Ikea stores (14) for their amount of happiness (7.2). Even Australia’s happiness-to-Ikea distribution is skewed (10 stores nationwide scoring 7.2 on the Happiness index). The happiest? The Netherlands, with 13 stores and a 7.4 on the index. The country has 17 million residents.

Having one Ikea store per million rather than zero is associated with a full point increase in national happiness. Even having just one Ikea (0.2 per million) would give New Zealand an expected 0.2 point boost.

Where would New Zealand place in 2020 if Brownlee had agreed to Ikea using some vacant land near the Christchurch airport years ago? Likely somewhere near the Indonesia and the UK, hugging the left-hand boundary of the graph.

It would take a lot to push us to Dutch happiness levels. A few more stores in Auckland would still leave spots for other locations elsewhere, but I’m not sure how much happier Kiwis would be with Ikea stores in Whanganui, Nelson or Tauranga.

Of course, these measurements aren’t serious. We might as well compare the distribution of swimming pools or sex shops with happiness rankings. And I’ve always been curious how surveys control for cultural biases when asking: “are you happy?”

Yet if the Government insists on using “wellbeing” as a goal, what’s so bad about using happiness? Think how much happier we’d be this year with an allen key and a set of assembly instructions.

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