By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News
Friday morning at Ikea, young mothers impatiently push their prams around the fringes of the child and toddler section, waiting for the store to open.
The crowds are coming to IKEA
"I want one of those for my baby" coos one. "That pink one.
"Lisa, will you see how much it is?"
With cooked breakfast at £1.65 and free tea and coffee for loyalty card holders, the industrial-sized furniture store has morphed into an almost surreal social club for mums with an eye for bargains. Or perhaps they just want a breather: there is a one-hour free creche.
Those apparently less savvy are frowned upon.
"Why don't people have cards, man?" queries one of the staff in the restaurant, shaking her head in mock despair.
There are plenty of people without loyalty cards this Friday morning. The young mums have been joined by a new breed of bargain hunters.
They are not here for the free tea and the bargain bangers. Instead, they are here on a recce, to work out strategies ahead of a Saturday morning raid that is set to bring fear to London's suburbs, when Ikea's latest sales extravaganza is set to begin.
Ikea is keen to avoid a scrum such as the one that caused injury in 2005
Throughout the morning, the blissfully empty car park soon fills up and becomes blissful no more. It is time for the Ikea shuffle to begin.
In Ikea's stores, once inside there is only one way out. There are no short-cuts, no going back. In for a penny, in for a pound.
With sturdy, yellow carrier bags slung over their shoulders, casually dressed suburbanites follow the same route, shuffling past sofas and carpets, lamps and mirrors, bathrooms and kitchens, frantically taking measurements or jotting down product codes.
"That would be nice," observes a man in his forties, gazing critically at an over-designed object.
Though the store is busy, there is no crowd pushing him along so he is able to have a good think before making up his mind.
"But it's the wrong shape," he concludes, continuing his trawl.
In the office furniture section, a mother loses sight of her young children, straining her neck, fear in her eyes, until she spots them fiddling with a five-legged chair on wheels.
Panic over - though perhaps a sign of things to come as Ikea prepares for a one-day sale to mark its 21st birthday in the UK?
I predict a riot
Beyond the busy retail areas, the check-out counter is uncharacteristically calm.
Deep discounts may not impress customers
Someone is quietly whistling the Kaiser Chiefs' hit "I predict a riot", still mindful of the crush of thousands of people that hospitalised several people when the Edmonton store was opened three years ago.
It will not happen again, insists marketing director Anna Crona, pointing out that four new stores have been opened since without any problems.
"We have all the safety and security in place," she insists.
Cheerful banter prevails as the oft stressed and somewhat less patient Ikea workers enjoy the silence before the storm.
"We'll be busy, busy, busy," grins one check-out girl, seemingly relishing the thought of a good scrum.
On Saturday, there will be 28% off everything, the girl declares - which is wrong, but not by miles.
The true discount is 21%, for one day only, and "the hot dogs will be 21p", explains a yellow-and-blue clad worker.
That brings the hot dog discount to a whopping 58%, which will surely further boost Ikea's overall figure of 48 million hot dogs sold.
Such statistics may come across as irrelevant for those hunting for big-ticket items. And irritating for anyone who wants another meal. All other food will retail at full price.
But turn up early, and warm drinks and grub will be dished out for nothing to Family Card customers.
Non-members will be free to join the family. In fact, anyone prepared to hand over their personal details to the Ikea marketing machine can join instantly for free, according to Ms Crona.
Yet she is by no means certain that it will be a success.
"With the credit crunch, it is difficult to predict how the customers see this when other retailers are doing similar things," she says.
"Debenhams are doing three days of 20% off."