opinion

Pleasure Products: Rivalry Online

Mark Espinosa

Once upon a time, at an IP address far, far, away… existed a website that millions of people visited, several hundred thousand times a day. At first, this website was seen as a gift from the Internet Gods. You could purchase everything from shoelaces to unicorn masks! Cowboy boots to ladybugs! Oh, how the citizens of Internet-land rejoiced that day! Then, without warning, a dark cloud fell over the land. Products began to rise from the depths, at prices far below that of their suggested retail price. Retailers noticed the shift and the gauntlet was thrown. While these brave knights embarked on their great struggle to free their products from the Lair of Ill-gotten Prices, the kingdom awaited as the fate of the sex toy industry hung in the balance.

Okay, I might be exaggerating this situation ever so slightly — although, you cannot deny that the emergence of sexuality items on non-sexuality focused online megasites has caught the attention of many retailers and manufacturers. It definitely has not gone unnoticed to the thrifty eyes of the modern sex toy consumer. With customers comments such as: “I found this online for cheaper!” and “Why do you mark up your prices so high?” and reports of retailers being approached and encouraged to open online stores under different names, so that they can anonymously sell below MSRP, it is overwhelmingly obvious that a clear distinction must be established and further cultivated.

Online retailers have the interesting situation of working predominantly with already savvy online shoppers. This presents the difficulty of having to stand out and compete against the accessibility of massive online shops.

Beyond statistics, SEO and accessibility, lies the question of familiarity, comfort, and preferences of the modern day sex toy consumer. As education and mainstream acceptance of sexuality continues to spread throughout our society, our clientele will begin to demand a higher level of presentation and awareness from any retailer that they dare purchase their most intimate of intimates from. On the brick and mortar side of things, the physical interaction between inquisitive customers and strong sexual educated retail associates can be so profound that it can create a ripple effect across their entire retail experience and also that of anyone in their social circle.

Being able to openly discuss sensitive topics and have them handled in a professional way is an extremely life-changing experience. When a seemingly casual customer interaction turns into a life-altering conversation, a particular butterfly effect of brand loyalty spreads exponentially through their social media and vast social networks. “I never thought about putting something up my ass before and thanks to the patience and education of that sales associate, I can’t imagine something not being up there!” Such interactions, generally, only occur between institutions that display a strong grasp and familiarity with the products they carry and less so with a website that exhibits little awareness of the complicated products they are selling.

Online retailers have the interesting situation of working predominantly with already savvy online shoppers. This presents the difficulty of having to stand out and compete against the accessibility of massive online shops. As with physical shops, online customers will gravitate towards websites that seem to completely understand the products they are carrying — especially if that website demonstrates an understanding that transcends basic product knowledge and into actual physical usage. “Use a water-based lube on silicone toys.” “This dildo won’t work with a harness.” What makes online retailers different than larger discount leviathans, is the focus and familiarity that is displayed on their pages. For most shoppers, sexuality is an extremely specific and sensitive part of their lives and human beings enjoy nothing more than compartmentalizing aspects of their personality.

If they know a website from only having bought their nephew’s baseball helmet from it, they probably won’t consider them a preferred location to purchase sexuality items. A website that diversifies its selection so broadly that they are unable to create a solid atmosphere around one particular line of products, is going to have a hard time selling to customers that demand more expertise. Having a site that truly understands the products they are selling and is able to demonstrate varying viewpoints on it, will always outweigh a site that simply throws the products up in a random “health section” and lets the imagery and vague products descriptions speak for themselves.

While I believe that massive warehouse sites are going to steal a small percentage of customers from singularly focused sexuality businesses, it’s important to remember that a lot of customers have already designated in their minds where one would go to purchase these particular and sensitive items. Pharmacies and drug stores are for insoles and cough syrup. Sex shops are for dildos and butt plugs. The subconscious connection between romance items and sexuality retailers has already been implanted in the minds of the everyday sex toy customer.

As we continue to display a heightened ability to dispense impactful and insightful information pertaining to some of the most delicate subjects that our customers present, we will continue to solidify local sex shops and predominantly focused sexuality websites as trusted and preferred establishments for the wayward sexuality customer.

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