Recently on the Xbiz boards I have noticed a few queries about sex toys and the best affiliates to join. Like most webmasters we ask how we can increase our bottom line and maximize the earning potential of our traffic. I have always kept an eye on trends and how to generate more revenue, so naturally I was curious about selling adult tangibles like sex toys.
My master plan started to take shape in June/01 with a bit of research. My biz partner had just completed quite a few new websites and had many that were in development, so we decided to give selling toys a try.
I began by looking into the various toy affiliate programs with simple criteria in mind: the best products, a popular name, a good commission rate (15-30% seems to be the norm) and a nice professional looking site to promote. We finally had a short list of which affiliates we would sign up for, then copy paste some code and PRESTO! We were in the sex toy business!
Having a business lunch one day, I explained to a couple of friends how simple it was to join a Sex Toy Affiliate, promote it and potentially make money. One of the gents perked up and told me he used to work for a Sex Toy distributor, which coincidentally is only 20 minutes from my house. He said it would make more sense to build a website, pick the products and sell them myself. He went on to explain how hot the market was and the kind of money his company used to make. He also mentioned that more and more of his old clients were web based companies, taking advantage of the low monthly overhead associated with not having to stock a retail store. As I sat there listening, the wheels in my head started to turn a million miles a minute; this wouldn't be that hard, I could do this rather than join an affiliate program.
Enter the next chapter of research! I had to look into logistics, costs of design, programming, shopping cart solutions, merchant account, advertising, whole sale costs, profit margins, customer service, legal issues, packaging costs, shipping costs, and shipping options. This was starting to look like a lot more work than joining an affiliate program. Then came market research, who are the big boys, who are the "wanna be's" (like me), who is so-so and where do I want to fit in the whole mix?
The first challenge was obtaining a merchant account in Canada. I wanted to sell in Canadian and US dollars with all three major credit cards. I certainly couldn't afford the thousands of dollars in deposits each credit card company wanted to obtain my own merchant account, so I opted for the 3rd party processor (Internet Secure). Here is another issue I discovered about Canadian banks and on-line processing, most merchant companies wouldn't accept my business because it was adult in nature, and they always ended with "It's not us, really, you see it's the banks, they wont deal with adult content". Some companies will accept adult business, but would only process one type of Credit Card or one type of currency.
Next, I had to think of the design, programming and content attributes. Thinking first of my own shopping experiences, I knew what I didn't like about shopping on-line, so I started a list of what my store should be: fun, smart, professional, easily navigational, sophisticated enough for the first time buyer, cheeky and sexy for the long time buyer. If the site looks cheap, the likelihood of someone giving up their credit card number and waiting for something to be sent to them would be slim.
I'm in Canada so I wanted Canadians to be offered Canadian pricing. (I will launch my US/International currency option very shortly). The back end of the site had to be extremely easy for me to add, delete and update products within minutes. I found a lot of hosting companies that offer e-commerce plans with shopping carts and merchant accounts included. But most of them wouldn't allow adult products and I was limited with the amount of programming, custom design and types of currencies and credit cards I could use. This led me to purchasing a main-stream retail cart based on back-end functionality but still had complete customizable options. Adult search engines are not as saturated so I've submitted to them as well.
Shipping had to be looked into next. Canada Post is very small-business friendly and they seem to be Internet savvy as well. Within days, I had received a small business account, a box full of invoices and shipping labels, and a CD-Rom explaining how easy it is to process orders from home.
The last and most important issue was to consider the marketing, both on-line and off. If you type sex toys into any search engine, you can imagine how many site returns you will get. It's a battle I'm not likely to win but I have discovered if you target specific products your chances are better. Adult search engines are not as saturated so I've submitted to them as well. As for an affiliate program? Of course! This will be one of the most effective ways to garner traffic.
I'm very pleased with the end result, but it has consumed a lot of my time and I have had to nurture the site like a new business. A sex toy site is not for every Webmaster (who may have many other sites to maintain,) but signing up for a toy affiliate is easier, less consuming and still profitable! This story has just begun...stay tuned! ~ Magnus