trends

The Digital Factor: Industry Execs Discuss Trends in E-Commerce

Alex Henderson

The concept of selling sex toys and sexy attire via mail-order existed long before the Internet, but e-commerce has made it much more widespread than it was back in the 1970s and 1980s (when Adam & Eve led the way with mail-order condoms). These days, the Internet is a major destination for purchasing vibrators, dildos, butt plugs and many other sex toys. Technology evolves rapidly in the digital age, and for adult e-commerce, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of mobile/wireless optimization, multi-platform website designs, continued e-commerce / brick-and-mortar crossover and extensive social media promotions.

Erin Viereck, marketing and vendor liaison for Williams Trading Company, explained that in 2015, consumers purchasing sex toys will continue to compare e-commerce prices with prices in brick-and-mortar stores — and whether they ultimately buy online or offline will depend on what they consider the best bargain. Viereck observed: “In the past few years, as online shopping exploded and smartphones became the norm, the show-rooming phenomenon seemed poised to gut the revenue of offline retailers. Consumers headed into their local stores, got an up-close look at products, then did a quick search or scanned barcodes to see where the items could be purchased for less money — most often on Amazon. But now, retailers have discovered reverse show-rooming or web-rooming, which is when consumers go online to research a product or figure out what they might want to buy but then, head to a brick-and-mortar store to complete their shopping. They do this on Amazon, on social media sites, maybe even on a retail chain’s own website. Then, when they’re actually ready to purchase, they head to a local store.”

With responsive design, the customers get used to one experience with all the features regardless of which device they use. -Dave Levine Owner, Sextoy.com

Viereck added that according to the Harris Poll, 69 percent of American consumers are web-rooming, while only 46 percent are show-rooming. “Show-rooming may be big,” Viereck noted, “but reverse show-rooming is even bigger.”

Inga Van Riper, brand strategist for the Build the Store program at Honey’s Place, predicted that sex toy purchases via mobile/wireless devices will continue to increase in 2015. “Mobile is no longer an option; it is a necessity,” Van Riper stressed. “More and more people rely on their mobile devices to shop online. Online adult retailers need to optimize the shopping experience for their mobile customers.”

Dave Levine, owner of SexToy.com, asserted that responsive web design — making certain that a website is easy to use on multiple platforms — will be an ongoing challenge for adult e-commerce in 2015. “Developing multiple sites for every screen size is difficult for almost any company, and then, the mobile is often left missing important features or lagging the desktop site,” Levine explained. “With responsive design, the customers get used to one experience with all the features regardless of which device they use. Amazon has raised the bar and set the standards on site design, customer service and shipping. … You now need a team of programmers and analytics analysis to make a decent site.”

In adult e-commerce, there has been much discussion of the effect that the release of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie will have on the sale of BDSM-related items. Tom Nardone, president/founder of PriveCo, Inc. and Vibrators.com, predicted: “The ‘Fifty Shades’ premier is going to be a biggie, but I personally think it will burn brightly for a very short period of time. Unlike the book, where people invested weeks of mental energy in it, the movie will just catch their attention for a couple of hours. Regardless, we are looking at a strong Valentine’s Day.”

Ari Suss, CEO of XR, LLC and SexToyDistributing.com, observed: “‘Fifty Shades’ has started and continued a conversation on different types of sexual experiences, and it has had the same influence on bondage as ‘Sex in the City’ was for the rabbit vibrator.”

Suss is not seeing much regional variation when it comes to the sex toys Americans are buying online. In December 2014, according to Suss, four types of sex toys — cock rings, nipple toys, wrist and ankle restraints and butt plugs — were top sellers in California and New York State as well as in Texas, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois.

Consumers looking for sex toys online aren’t necessarily making their purchases on adult e-commerce sites — some of them are going to mainstream giant Amazon.com. Nardone observed: “Amazon.com will continue to lead Internet retail, with the rest of us hunting for scraps. … The dominance of Amazon.com in the e-commerce business is the biggest change in the market. Research is showing that people are increasingly searching for things to buy right on the Amazon site, and if you have any success selling anything on their marketplace, Amazon will quickly start sourcing it directly. It is not good for independent e-commerce businesses.”

Suss pointed out that promotions via social media have been an important trend for adult e-commerce, although he cautioned that learning how to use social media effectively can be challenging. “Social is a powerful tool that many adult companies have difficulty leveraging,” Suss observed. “The reality is that this is a platform that many people use on a daily basis to share content and create buying decisions. If an adult company steps over the already vague terms and conditions, an account, profile, fan page, etc. can be shut down without recourse.”

E-commerce has turned some local brick-and-mortar adult stores into national businesses: a local sex shop in Baltimore or Philadelphia, for example, becomes, in effect, a national business when it begins selling vibrators or nipple clamps online to consumers living in Seattle, Phoenix or Chicago. Van Riper pointed out that in 2015, there are valuable opportunities for sex shops and e-commerce to work together. “Physical brick-and-mortar adult stores and e-commerce are turning into a mutually beneficial partnership,” Van Riper asserted. “If a product is not available in your store, kiosks or even a simple iPad is a great idea to turn a lost opportunity into a converted sale.”

Suss views e-commerce/brick-and-mortar crossover as a positive trend. “I feel it’s in a brick-and-mortar store’s best interest to also offer its products online,” Suss explained. “We are seeing a lot of crossover.”

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