IKEA Effect: Labor of Love


Build-A-Bud Workshop is every child’s dream store. The brand’s appeal comes mostly from the fact that customers get to personalize every possible aspect of their new plush toy and essentially “build” it themselves. Customers first choose the kind of animal they want—Build-A-Bud offers everything from classic teddy bears to characters from hit TV shows. Afterward, an employee helps the customer fill their stuffed animal with fluff and sew it up. The customer then mix-and-matches different accessories to dress up the plush toy before finally giving it a name, which gets printed onto a certificate. A clothed Build-A-Bud plush can easily cost you upwards of $50. 

You’re probably wondering why so many kids (and their generous parents) think a plushie is worth $50. Why don’t they just buy a generic stuffed animal of similar quality from a local toy or department store, where it only costs about $15?

Here’s Why

People tend to put a higher value on items that they created than on objects that other people created. In fact, most people are able to ignore obvious imperfections in their own work and continue to favor it even when the premade or mass-manufactured version of the item is objectively superior. For example, if you like cooking as a hobby, you’d probably turn up your nose at delivery pizza and insist that your homemade pepperoni pie tastes better, even if it’s kind of burnt and the sauce is too chunky. 

Similarly, in the case of Build-A-Bud, kids feel like they created a toy from scratch, and thus, they’re more emotionally attached to this stuffed animal and more inclined to play with it than with a generic toy. The $50 price tag on the Build-A-Bud toy is completely justified in the customer’s mind. All the labor and personalization they put into creating the toy has increased its value way beyond the basic material cost of the stuffing, cloth, etc. in the toy. 

Definition of IKEA Effect

The IKEA Effect is a cognitive bias that causes people to assign unusually high value to items that they themselves helped build or create. This cognitive bias is named after the Swedish furniture company because IKEA was one of the first to popularize the concept of personally assembling furniture at a time when buying store-assembled furniture was the norm. 

How It Works

The IKEA effect is closely related to a broader psychological phenomenon known as effort justification. Effort justification refers to the directly proportional relationship between the amount of effort put into achieving or creating something and the mental satisfaction resulting from that achievement/creation. If a person puts many hours of hard work into making something, even if the product doesn’t come out objectively perfect, they will have an inflated sense of satisfaction to justify all the effort put into it. 

A classic study of effort justification was conducted by Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills in 1959. The study took a sample of 63 female university students and told them that they had the opportunity to join a particular social club. Through random assignment, Aronson and Mills sorted the subjects into three groups that would each receive a different treatment: one group was the control that would experience no initiation, a second group would undergo a mild initiation ritual, and a third group would undergo a severe initiation ritual. Those who were assigned the “mild” initiation were told to read aloud several words that are implicitly connected to sex, like “prostitute” or “virgin.” Those who were assigned the “severe” initiation were told to read aloud twelve obscenities as well as two excerpts from explicit sexual literature into a microphone that supposedly would broadcast their voices to the other members of the club. Afterward, all the subjects were given admission to the club. 

Later, the researchers surveyed the subjects on how much they enjoyed being a part of the club meetings. The “severe initiation” group gave higher enjoyment ratings than the “mild initiation” group, which gave higher ratings than the “no initiation” group. The results revealed that the greater the effort required in order to join the group, the greater the satisfaction reported. 

Using It

On a personal level, you can use your knowledge of the IKEA effect to your advantage when you’re picking a gift for someone that you want to make a good impression on. Often when people buy gifts, they choose items that are pre-assembled and ready to use. However, now that you understand the IKEA effect, you might consider getting that special person a building blocks set or a science experiment kit, or even taking them out to some kind of workshop, like pottery or mosaic-making classes - they’re almost certain to cherish it more than a premade gift. 

On a business level, many companies have noticed IKEA’s success with selling DIY furniture kits and are now trying to replicate this marketing model with their own products. Especially with the advancement of the Internet, involving the customer in the creation and design of products has never been easier - plenty of websites offer T-shirt customization services, many frozen yogurt shops have a buffet-style set-up where you make your own concoction of yogurt flavors and toppings, and many big toy shops are offering customers the opportunity to assemble their own creation.

Think Further

  1. Describe one situation in which you personally experienced the IKEA effect.
  2. What industries or companies do you think can benefit from taking advantage of the consumers’ IKEA effect? Explain why and how they might use the IKEA effect to their advantage.
  3. Do you think the IKEA effect applies to absolutely all objects? Can you think of an item where you would rather get a premade version instead of making it yourself?


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Learn More

  1. Franke, Nikolaus, et al. “The ‘I Designed It Myself’ Effect in Mass Customization.” Management Science, vol. 56, no. 1, Oct. 2009, pp. 125–40. pubsonline.informs.org (Atypon), doi:10.1287/mnsc.1090.1077.
  2. Mochon, Daniel, et al. “Bolstering and Restoring Feelings of Competence via the IKEA Effect.” International Journal of Research in Marketing, vol. 29, no. 4, Dec. 2012, pp. 363–69. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.ijresmar.2012.05.001.
  3. Norton, Michael I., et al. “The IKEA Effect: When Labor Leads to Love.” Journal of Consumer Psychology, vol. 22, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 453–60. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2011.08.002.
  4. Raghoebar, Sanne, et al. “Self-Crafting Vegetable Snacks: Testing the IKEA-Effect in Children.” British Food Journal, June 2017. world, www.emerald.com, doi:10.1108/BFJ-09-2016-0443.