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Outdoor entertaining trend stays strong, NPD Group market research shows

Retailers rely on higher income consumers to retain sales momentum

Despite the sluggish economy, most consumers are engaging in some form of outdoor entertaining, with an average frequency of about four times per year.

While monitoring their spending, many have found it acceptable to invest a portion of their savings in select household items and that includes outdoor entertaining. According to a recent report, Outdoor Entertaining Trends 2008: Consumers Bring the Indoors Out, from The NPD Group, Inc., a leading market research company, roughly 45% of outdoor entertainers purchased some type of related product in the past 12 months.

In addition, more than 40% of outdoor entertainers told NPD they plan to purchase/add an item to their property in the next 12 months. Fire pits/outdoor fireplaces, outdoor lighting and water fountain/decor were among the top products outdoor entertainers said they plan to purchase within the next year.

Outdoor style motivates high-income consumers

Twenty-six percent of affluent entertainers, those earning more than $75,000, were significantly more likely to say they use items meant for outdoor use only, compared to those earning under $35,000 (17%) or between $35,000–$74.900 (20%). Higher income consumers also tend to pay closer attention to style when purchasing outdoor entertaining items, such as outdoor furniture, water fountain/decor, fire pits/outdoor fireplaces, as well as items from electronics categories like speakers.

Room for improvement

Overall, retailers have done a good job marketing outdoor entertaining items, though consumers noted areas for improvement. Consumers consistently ranked store personnel as a factor that matters little when they shop for outdoor entertaining products.

"Retailers may want to take a closer look at how they utilize their store associates, considering the value a knowledgeable staff can add," said Mark Delaney, director of The NPD Group's Home division. "Initiating programs aimed at growing category expertise and customer service skills may appeal to some in the industry."

Consumers in the highest income bracket were more likely to rate retailers' efforts as only being "good," compared to those in the lower income breaks.

"Some retailers may find it worthwhile to explore this segment more deeply to uncover what they can do to capture a greater percentage of these disposable dollars," Delaney said. "Manufacturers and retailers who deliver the best assortment, at key price points, along with an educated sales force, and outstanding customer service will continue to have the greater advantage and successfully draw consumers into their stores."

More than 1,800 consumers completed the online survey, which was sent to a representative sample of adults ages 18 and above in October.

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