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Dana French

Consumer Buying Trends

Consumers want retailers that offer a wide range of product choices and they want quality outdoor furniture products that are also durable and comfortable. Consumers think outdoor specialty stores have good selections and are ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest styles, but they most often think of home improvement centers as the first place to go when shopping for outdoor furniture.

Grills and outdoor dining sets continue to be the mainstays of the outdoor home furnishings industry, but conversation groups and fire pits are making an impact. While only one-third of responding households have purchased performance cushions, these consumers are convinced of their resilience.

These results are just a glimpse into the data presented here in Casual Living's exclusive 2007 Consumer Buying Trends Survey. All information is based on the responses of 2,508 U.S. households. All responding households are home owners and have high incomes — $75,000 or more.

Casual Living's exclusive survey also asked consumers how they use their outdoor spaces. The No. 1 outdoor activity, regardless of the consumer's age or region of the country, was cooking out on the grill.

The shopping process

Half of responding households said they purchased outdoor furniture last year to replace older or existing furniture. Unfortunately for outdoor retailers, the replacement cycle for outdoor furniture is long. More than one-third of outdoor dining set buyers plan to keep their new set for three to five years and more than half plan to keep it for six or more years. Therefore, understanding what's important to consumers, both in terms of the store and its services, as well as product, is critical to capturing consumers.

Having a wide range of product choices and offering good customer service are ranked highest among characteristics for consumers when choosing an outdoor retailer. More than three-fourths of responding households stated these attributes were important to them. Almost as many said it was important to be able to take product home they day they buy it. Providing service after the sale and offering delivery was important to about half of responding households.

Offering design services is an area where outdoor specialty stores often excel and differentiate themselves from the competition. However, it's not a feature that will make or break the sale. In fact, three-fifths of responding households said design services were not important to them.

More than one-third of responding households turned to the Internet to research outdoor furniture products before buying. Overall, households believed their online research was valuable. More than three-fifths said it was important in influencing what outdoor products they purchased and more than half said it influenced where they bought.

Households researching online were slightly younger than those that did not. Nearly two-fifths of online researchers belonged to either Generation X or Y, compared with one-third of the households that did not use the Internet to research products.

Nearly nine out of 10 households used the Internet to research a product's price. While we do know households were investigating prices, we do not know if they were price-comparison shopping or simply trying to get a handle on current costs and price ranges carried by various retailers.

What they want

Outdoor furniture buyers are looking for quality, durability and comfort in their outdoor furniture. Nine out of 10 responding households rated these characteristics as important regardless of where households purchased.

Specialty store buyers place added importance on the product's quality, while home improvement center and discount department store buyers rated the product's quality, durability and comfort equally important.

Price does matter and half of responding households revealed that price was very important when they were choosing outdoor furniture. Further evidence of the importance of price — 89% of consumers using the Internet to research outdoor products looked at price.

Grading the stores

Specialty stores get their highest grades for having a good selection of outdoor furniture, as well as always having the latest styles and looks. More than three-fifths of responding households agreed with these statements.

Perhaps the most disturbing grade for specialists is the lackluster C+ as the first place consumers go when shopping for outdoor furniture. Only one-fourth of responding households said outdoor specialty stores were the first place they thought of when they went shopping for outdoor furniture. By comparison, two-fifths of responding households agreed home improvement centers were the first place to go to when shopping.

Conversation groups

More than three-fifths of the deep seating groups purchased were three-piece sets with two chairs and an occasional table. Another one-fifth of those purchased were four-piece groupings. Two chairs, a loveseat or sofa and an occasional table counted as the most frequently bought configuration for a four-piece group.

Buying households spent a median of $350 (meaning half spent less and half spent more). Nearly one-fourth of households spent less than $200, but nearly one-fifth spent $1,000 or more.

More than one-third of all groups were purchased at discount department stores and Target was the standout player within the channel. The median spent at home improvement centers, at $275, was less than the median at department stores.

Baby Boomers accounted for more than one-half of all conversation group buyers last year. They spent a median of $350 on their deep-seating set, compared with a median of $300 spent by Generation X. Gen X accounted for another 28% of buyers.

The biggest spenders were buyers living in the South, who spent a median of $475, compared with a median of $400 for households living in the Northeast and a median of $300 each for those living in the Midwest and West.

Outdoor dining sets

Five-piece sets, purchased by more than one-half of responding households, dominated the market last year. Seven-piece sets were also popular, bought by one-third of households.

The category big shots are discount department stores and home improvement centers. More than one-half of all dining set purchases were in these two channels.

Specialty stores accounted for 12% of all dining set purchases. Buyers spent a median of $1,500 on their set there, five times more than the median at discount department stores and more than three times the median at home improvement centers.

Discount department stores, led by Wal-Mart, recorded a close ratio of 53, the best of any channel. Specialty stores had a close ratio of 49.

Overall, households spent a median of $450 on their dining set last year, with 21% spending $1,000 or more. Nearly two-fifths of the dining sets priced at $1,000 or more were purchased at specialty stores.

Performance Cushions

Two-thirds of responding households have heard about performance cushions. That's the good news. However, only one-fifth of those who knew about performance cushions had actually bought them. The product has turned these buyers into believers though. More than half say the cushions have lived up to their durability guarantee and another two-thirds would recommend them to family and friends, even if they cost more.

Here's the bad news: More than one-third of responding households have never even heard of performance cushions. By generation, one-third of Baby Boomers and one-third of Generation X households do not know about performance cushions and 37% of Gen Y households have never heard of them.

Furthermore, performance cushion's durability aspects are not well known among the half of responding households that have heard of them, but have not bought. Less than half of these consumers believe the cushions dry quickly. About two-fifths of responding households believe the cushions can get wet and not be ruined, are stain resistant and can be left outside for extended periods of time. About one-third believe they are abrasion and mildew resistant. Only one-fourth of responding households believe performance cushions are fade resistant.

Other outdoor furniture

Chaise/lounge chairs were the most popular piece of other outdoor furniture.

Since chaise/lounge chairs are often used poolside, it makes sense that two-fifths of chaise buying households lived in the South last year. About one-fifth of buying households each lived in the Northeast, Midwest and South.

Three-fifths of chaise/lounge chairs buyers were Baby Boomers; 27%, Generation X; and 5%, Generation Y.

One-third of chaise/lounge chair buyers also purchased an outdoor dining set and an umbrella last year, while half also bought a grill.

Grills

Gas grills were the most popular, bought by nearly four-fifths of grill-buying households, with households spending a median of $300. Charcoal grills came in second, with a median spending of $100.

Home improvement centers own the grill category, accounting for half of all purchases. The close ratio at Home Depot, Lowe's and the like is 73. This means 73 out of every 100 households that shopped for a grill there bought one. That compares with a respectable close ratio of 55 at specialty stores, but only 6% of grill purchases were made there.

Buyers spent a median of $300 at home improvement centers. At discounters, which accounted for 18% of all buys, the median spent was nearly two times less, at $170. The median ticket at specialists was $600.

Specialty stores Home improvement centers Warehouse membership clubs Wal-Mart Target Kmart
Is the first place I go to when shopping for outdoor furniture C+ B- C C C D+
Good selection of outdoor furniture/accessories B+ B C C B- C
Always has the latest styles and looks B+ B- C+ C B- C
Quality of outdoor furniture/accessories matches the price B B B- B- B C+
Outdoor furniture/accessories are expensive but worth paying the price B- B- C+ C- C+ C-
Sales staff makes me feel like a valued customer B B- C C- C+ C-


Specialty stores Home improvement centers Warehouse membership clubs Discount department stores
Source: Casual Living Consumer Buying Trends Survey, 2007
Gen Y and X 20% 46% 37% 36%
Younger Baby Boomer 29% 24% 34% 29%
Older Baby Boomer 36% 24% 18% 29%


Consumers rated each store by using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 "does not describe at all" and 5 "describes completely." The average scores were converted into grades A through F.

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