Outdoor furniture has evolved over the years, transforming from oft-forgotten lawn accessories—stored in sheds or garages and hosed off when a barbecue beckons—to an integral part of home décor. Fire pit seating arrangements, outdoor dining sets, and plush lounge chairs are increasing in popularity, reflecting consumers’ growing desire for outdoor furniture that blends elegance and simplicity to create a relaxing outdoor oasis.
How the Market Has Changed
In the 1980s, the outdoor furniture industry experienced a significant change as major home furnishings manufacturers began selling fully-welded sets of aluminum lawn seating to mass retailers. Consumer interest shifted away from the more expensive outdoor sets sold by smaller domestic companies to more affordable, mass-produced products. In response, domestic retailers largely dropped their outdoor collections. At the same time, the shift toward mass production and a consolidating pool of suppliers reduced the diversity of styles available. However, this has begun to change.
Many industry experts credit the stress of modern lifestyles with fueling consumers’ rising interest in creating tranquil outdoor escapes. The outdoor furniture market is expected to surge by 19.5 percent by 2020 as shoppers search for unique, practical, and on-trend outdoor pieces. This increase will drive a growth rate of 5.3 percent for furniture retailers.
However, the revitalization of the outdoor furniture market still faces challenges. Furniture retailers must now compete with e-commerce, making it more vital than ever for companies to create an engaging and worthwhile in-store shopping experience.
In its 2015 Consumer Buying Trends Survey, Casual Living reported that the most significant increase in outdoor furniture buying activity is concentrated in the western, southeastern, and northeastern regions of the United States. Somewhat surprisingly, this increase isn’t limited to rural and suburban communities. Even metropolitan areas have experienced an increased demand for smaller outdoor furnishings.
Millennials make up the fastest-growing segment of outdoor furniture consumers. In 2014, millennial households accounted for 37 percent of purchases. Baby boomers followed close behind with 34 percent of sales, while generation X-ers accounted for 23 percent. Industry experts expect millennials’ buying power to continue in this sector, as Americans aged 19-35 years old begin to build careers, families, and homes.
The rise in outdoor furniture purchases across multiple generational demographics reflects Americans’ increasing willingness to spend their discretionary income. Industry observers have also noted that it demonstrates the relative accessibility of outdoor products. While not every family has the need for a high-end formal dining room set, consumers across all income levels enjoy relaxing outside and hosting outdoor gatherings.
The Industry Responds
Although millennials are the fastest-growing subset of outdoor furniture buyers, some companies have found that interest in high-end luxury outdoor collections is nearly nonexistent among shoppers younger than 50 years old. While millennials are increasingly seeking out quality products, the decades-long prominence of mass-produced outdoor furniture has led consumers to expect more moderate prices. Furniture retailers are thus motivated to offer on-trend outdoor sets at a price point that is accessible to first-time purchasers.
Additionally, millennials tend to be more educated regarding their potential purchases, relying on the Internet to conduct extensive research before making a selection. This trend is beginning to influence the buying habits of other age demographics, making it crucial for companies to develop a strong web presence with detailed, accurate product information and ample customer reviews.
To compete with the vast selection of online retailers, furniture stores must also establish engaging, clearly-designated product showcases with a diverse array of eye-catching vignettes. As retailers strive to take advantage of the surge in outdoor furniture sales, it is increasingly important for them to establish themselves as a destination for outdoor furniture, as many consumers have grown accustomed to visiting home improvement big box stores for their patio furniture needs. Television advertising and perks such as home delivery, financing, and department-wide sales are all methods used by furniture retailers to re-establish themselves as players in the outdoor market.
The Latest Trends
Consumers shopping for outdoor furniture are on the hunt for the perfect balance of comfort, style, and functionality. They hope to find pieces that are attractive and stylish, yet durable and easy to maintain, in order to create a relaxing and social atmosphere. Especially popular among millennials are outdoor fire features and chat sets that invite visitors to unwind and spend quality time outside. In addition to being a cozy and aesthetically pleasing accessory, fire pits also extend the amount of time that people can enjoy their outdoor furniture, extending the season for backyard entertaining. For similar reasons, practical outdoor lighting is a popular way for consumers to make the most of their outdoor furniture investment.
Visual trends in the outdoor furniture sector tend to mirror the indoor trends of the previous year. Currently, urban and modern contemporary collections are attracting attention, offering elegant styles that are sleek, linear, and versatile. Popular designs include both natural and synthetic woven materials—which offer both durability and a natural, organic look—as well as mixed combinations of welded metal, natural stone, finished metallic, and worn wood.
Although neutral brown, gray, and navy tones permeate the current outdoor landscape, bohemian colors including deep red and orange are also on trend, as are the classic tropical blues and greens of traditional garden landscapes. While major outdoor pieces such as chairs and tables remain elegantly neutral in shape and hue, shoppers are adding bursts of color with rugs, pillows, and umbrellas in vibrant tones and geometric designs.
Overall, trends in the outdoor sector mark a shift away from the uninspired aluminum and plastic products of yore. Now, outdoor furniture bears more of a resemblance to interior pieces. With the rise of outdoor furniture that is contemporary, practical, and beautiful, the backyard has truly become an extension of the modern living space.