Sustainable outdoor furniture company, Outer, is combining the tactile experience of a showroom with the convenience of e-commerce by launching Neighbourhood Showrooms in Australia.

Neighbourhood Showrooms are the real backyards of Outer customers featuring Outer products, available for potential customers to touch, see and experience in real life or virtually.

With over 1,000 showrooms in the US, Neighbourhood Showrooms are now available in Australia in Daylesford (VIC), Waurn Ponds (VIC) and Hobart (TAS) with plans to add more around the country.

Outer co-founder and CEO, Jiake Liu spoke to Retailbiz about how Outer is utilising backyards to transform the e-commerce user experience and build a community around outdoor living.

“Demand for outdoor furniture has skyrocketed over the two last years as homes had to suddenly cater to work, family life and relaxation, so people began seeking sanctuary in their outdoor spaces,” he said. 

“Restrictions on entertainment and travel created a boom in lower value renovations in Australia such as outdoor decks. Store closures and social distancing also saw people turn to e-commerce for a safe, fast and convenient alternative to traditional bricks and mortar stores.”

The pandemic has led people to reconsider their impact on the environment, and consumers are realising that fast furniture is worse off for their pocket and the planet in the long run, according to Liu.

“While the D2C model offers a safe, fast and convenient alternative to a physical store, you miss out on the tactile and personal experience of a showroom – how does the fabric feel? Is the seat comfortable? How does the fabric hold up to the weather in my area?

“Traditional furniture showrooms are often located on the outskirts of cities and populated with pushy salespeople. Despite being empty for most of the day, they require power, air conditioning, lighting, and huge amounts of stock – which all adds up to a showroom-sized environmental footprint,” he said.

Outer’s Neighbourhood Showrooms provide a more sustainable and enjoyable alternative by leveraging existing infrastructure and friendly faces.

“Our Showrooms are the real backyards and balconies of Outer customers featuring Outer products for potential customers to touch, see, and experience. For shoppers, this means they get to deal with actual customers, offering a refreshingly honest perspective. Ask anything. No pressure, just two neighbours talking. For Hosts, there is a chance to connect with the community, make new friends, and make money, regardless of whether the visit ends in a purchase.”

So how does it work?

“For shoppers the process is straightforward – simply find a Showroom in the local area on the Outer website then request an in-person visit, or connect with a Host virtually via text, phone, video chat, or email. There is also an Outer Concierge to help coordinate all the details,” Jiu explained.

“Our Hosts get a flat fee per visit and 10% off their product so there is no pressure to buy on the day as we want the experience to be enjoyable for everyone involved. Hosts are our real customers who are passionate about helping to build a brand they truly believe in – it’s like when you find a new restaurant and immediately want to tell your friends about it.”

Looking ahead to 2022, sustainability will continue to be a strong part of Outer’s DNA with Liu and his co-founder, Terry, wanting to create a better world for their children.

“We like to say that we are a ‘material science company disguised as a furniture company’ so we will continue to invest heavily in material science research and product innovation to create eco-friendly solutions to the current industry standards that pollute our planet,” Liu said.

“We are proud of our innovations to date from our hand-sewn life-proof fabric that is stain, fade and mould resistant, to our patented OuterShell seat cover, which protects cushions from everyday dirt, debris, and morning dew. 

“We also recently released our Bug Shield Blankets treated with our invisible, odourless Insect Shield technology to safely repel pesky mosquitoes, flies and ants.”