By Duke Ratliff
With outdoor furniture expected to be one of the hottest home categories in 2011, it's no surprise that Walmart, Kmart and Target are playing up the category in a big way.
As expected, each of the big three mass merchants are devoting loads of floor space to outdoor furniture this summer. Plus, all three merchants go the extra mile in merchandising, with plenty of displays and signage.
Surprisingly, though, the mass merchants are sending store customers to view and purchase outdoor furniture items on the Internet. Walmart, Kmart and Target all featured point-of-purchase materials in mid-June offering customers more collections and accessories on their websites.
A four-sided, cardboard informational display invited customers to shop walmart.com for more offerings, enhancing the already substantial amount of outdoor collections and accessories at Walmart in Mohegan Lake, N.Y. The impossible-to-miss five-foot-tall display read: "Can't find what you're looking for? Find even more at walmart.com."
Mimicking a web page, the informational display showed collections that included some from Walmart's in-house Better Homes and Gardens brand. Some of the items were under the heading "online only." The large display allowed the retailer to merchandise and describe entire collections. For instance, it informed the shopper that the Better Homes & Gardens Lake Island Collection includes a four-piece conversation set, a glider bench, a three-piece bistro set, chaise, side table and ottoman. No prices were listed.
Additional information included photos and lengthy descriptions of Walmart's Mainstays brand, including its Lawson Ridge and Crossman collections; plus the Canopy brand, which includes the Shutter, Garden Glen, Willow Glen and Woven Wicker collections.
Walmart's outdoor furniture section at this site is located in an outdoor patio area just off the store's large garden department. In-store displays included six seating conversation areas and three dining sets. Dining collections range from a Lawson Ridge five-piece set for $198 to the Better Homes & Gardens Englewood Heights set for $748.
The Mainstays Crossman four-piece conversation set retails for $148. The fully woven, four-piece Hometrends Rushreed conversation set sells for $398.
Walmart offers plenty of accessories such as side tables, fire pits, umbrellas and water fountains to dress up outdoor spaces. Two long walls of shelves surrounding the outdoor furniture section were packed with colorful seat cushions.
Similar to Walmart's strategy, Kmart supplemented its sizeable amount of outdoor furniture offerings with an informational display that directed customers to kmart.com. The display, which was front and center of the patio area, featured photos and information about items that were on the sales floor, and others--including the La-Z-Boy Chelsea Outdoor Recliner ($229)--that were offered online. Perhaps not coincidentally, kmart.com recently featured patio furniture on its home page.
Kmart's outdoor section in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., was packed with seven dining sets, three seating vignettes and a bistro set. Most of the collections fall under the in-house Jaclyn Smith brand.
Kmart differentiated itself from its mass merchant competition with additions such as gazebos (three in this store), umbrellas, heaters and swings. The chain also stocked lots of accessories--many from the Country Living brand, such as folding chairs and cushions.
Kmart advertised sale prices for many sets and items, dubbed "temporary price drop," in its signage. The Jaclyn Smith Today Avondale four-piece seating set was $479, regularly $549. The Jaclyn Smith Avondale three-piece bistro set was $279, marked down from $299. The Country Living Collingwood five-piece dining set was $549, marked down from $679.
Target also highlighted deep discounts for its outdoor offerings. Huge hanging signs, and other smaller ones on dining and end tables, announced to shoppers: "Temporary price cuts!" and "Amazing deals!"
Like its mass merchant competitors, Target included signs directing consumers to its website for more outdoor furniture and accessories. "Want more outdoors?" read a large sign. "Find hundreds of outdoor products at target.com."
Target's offerings, some falling under the Smith & Hawken brand, were generally slightly higher priced than those found at Walmart and Kmart. The Smith & Hawken Allogio Collection's five-piece dining set was $798, marked down from $973. The Rolston Collection's four-piece deep-seating set, part of Target's in-house Home brand, was on sale for $596, down from $871. "Save $275," read the accompanying point-of-purchase material.
Target's large patio collection display included three dining sets, two bistro sets and two seating areas. The outdoor-products area was surrounded by accessories. Cushions of all shapes and sizes took up a long wall adjacent to a large selection of outdoor grills.
The fashionable mass merchant offers a plethora of single items such as resin Adirondack chairs ($17), stacking chairs (red, green and blue, $25) and a wicker love seat ($199). Gazebos ranged in price from $299 to $499.
Target also stood out from its mass competitors with take-home brochures touting the features of various collections. A pamphlet for Smith & Hawken, for instance, touted the brand's history and the quality of the line's craftsmanship.