When it comes to sex toys, one might think that not much has changed since the days of polished paleolithic siltstone. Form took a big step with the advent of plastics, and function allowed some innovation when electricity came along but, beyond that, the more things change the more they stay the same.
The most important thing that we’ve learned about technology trends is that consumers are increasingly aware of “what’s new’. -Andy Green, XGEN Products
Modern manufacturers and retailers of sex toys might tell a different story. They’re watching closely to how their customers spend their money, and listening just as closely to what their audience is saying — and customers, according to Mara Epstein, director of sales for Maia Toys, are better informed now than they ever were.
“Before, I think people weren’t as educated as they are now,” she said. “Now, if we don’t know something, we Google it.”
That knowledge has forced manufacturers to pay close attention. News of a trend or a new application for technology spreads fast.
“The most important thing that we’ve learned about technology trends is that consumers are increasingly aware of “what’s new,’” said Andy Green, president of XGEN Products. “It seems news of the technology spreads first, followed by news of the associated products.”
Look, for example, at a company like Doc Johnson, manufacturer of sex toys for almost four decades. According to Sunny Rodgers, the way to stay ahead of the trend consistently, and for a long period of time, is to be as open with you can with your customers.
“Since Doc Johnson is almost 40 years old now and we have seen a lot of trends during that time. Customers today have more information than ever before available at their fingertips, and brands that are transparent, win,” she said. “For decades, most American pleasure product companies have outsourced the majority of their manufacturing work overseas. Benefits of our local manufacturing include real-time access to the factory floor, more rapid responses to product or process changes and better quality control.”
That new availability of information is a good thing, according to Jae Steinic, of manufacturer BSwish.
“This influx of knowledge is great for both the customer and manufacturer. As more people become aware of design trends, emerging technologies and materials, manufacturers must respond accordingly and provide customers with what they want,” she said. “The end result is a rise in cutting-edge, high-quality toys. That’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Looking at form, most manufacturers have noticed a trend toward high-grade silicone as the material of choice among their customers.
“Notice the trend of silicone being medical grade,” Epstein said. “Everyone is putting more products out that are medical grade.”
According to Rodgers, the desire for silicone is about the desire for a quality feel.
“Silicone is the highest quality material on the sex toy market,” she said. “In an age where most consumers research products online before making their purchases, the benefits of silicone ring loud and clear.”
“Consumers love the look and feel of it,” said Susan Colvin, president and CEO of California Exotic Novelties. “Silicone is also very hygienic, which is a major plus.”
There is some consensus on color among manufacturers, though some continue to try and branch out even while acknowledging that the same two colors have remained popular for a very long time.
“Pink and purple are the best sellers, this has been the case for over 20 years,” Colvin said. “CalExotics was the first to introduce pink and purple products to the market. Some people thought we were crazy but now it’s the standard.”
Steinic, of BSwish, said her company tries “to choose colors that are popular and match the emerging fashion trends.”
“We offer unique options such as ‘jade,’ ‘blue lagoon’ and ‘natural coral’ (which is proving to be extremely popular) and more traditional colors such as black, hot pink and royal purple,” she said. “We find different colors sell more in different areas throughout the world and at different times of the year.”
As for why pink and purple remain the colors of choice for sex toy customers, Epstein suggested there are subliminal reasons those shades sell so well.
“Purple is royalty and security,” she said. “It looks rich.”
With its line of massagers, XGEN Products has taken the tactic of offering a variety, color-wise, to stand out while appealing to as many customers as possible while keeping an eye on trend, according to Green.
“Bold colors are certainly on the rise, whether they are on trend or simply stand out in a store and capture the consumer’s attention, it’s important to be in that range,” he said. “We take the same approach as we do for functionality — offer a variety and allow the retailers to reach a broad audience.”
Looking at function, perhaps, just like when battery-powered electricity and injection-molded plastics came on the scene, with the advent of innovations like smartphones and 3D printing, manufacturers are being challenged to take another wide step forward from siltstone.
“We live in a very exciting era because technology, more than ever before, is the driving force within our industry,” Steinic, of manufacturer BSwish, said. “As technology pushes forward in fields such as teledildonics and 3D printing, we’re provided the ability to work on new platforms and be able to accomplish things that only five years ago would’ve been impossible. That said, form should always follow function (especially in our industry) and technology simply shines a light on new and exciting ideas.
“Customer knowledge and demands grow linear with emerging technology and manufacturers must grow in parallel,” she said.
Colvin, of California Exotic Novelties, speaks about it slightly differently.
“Technology is hot with sex toys; it always is,” she said. “Consumers are becoming more technology-savvy. They want the latest technology in all areas of their life, and that includes sex toys.”
Colvin’s company offers products that “have dual or triple motors, incremental speed control, various functions and a locking feature.”
“Multi-function toys are big with consumers, they offer a wide range of possibilities,” she said. “Design is also key, consumers want something that looks nice and feels good. With the advancement in technology and growth in luxury toys people can have both.”
The technological advancement that appears to be all the rage at the moment is wireless toys and Bluetooth-enabled devices, items that weren’t technologically possible just a few years ago.
“First-time shoppers gravitate towards remote-controlled products because they are fun and non-threatening,” Colvin said. “The remote control toy market is growing and we’ve created a number of products to capitalize on it.”
According to Steinic, choosing a sex toy is a matter of personal preference. The choice between “bells and whistles,” as Epstein calls them, and more simplistic design is one every customer must make for her and himself.
“It is a matter of personal taste, I guess that is why they are called personal massagers,” Steinic said. “While one person may enjoy lots of different function and options, another may prefer a simple design with one or two different functions to choose from.”
Epstein said her own, personal feeling is that Bluetooth and radio-controlled toys take a level of intimacy away from the sex toy experience, even when used by a couple, and according to Rodgers, there will always be a market for the simple things, the items that may have not changed since the days of siltstone dildos.
“We think classics remain classics for a reason,” Rodgers said. “New items have a place too since there are so many more people using pleasure products now than ever before, but there will always be a buyer for tried-and-true classic items.”