Adult mail order is a concept that has existed for many years. Phil Harvey famously operated a groundbreaking mail order business for adult products during the 1970s. But e-commerce has expanded the concept considerably in recent decades, creating a long list of companies that prosper by selling pleasure products on the Internet. And in 2017, online adult retailers find themselves in an environment that isn’t becoming any less competitive but can still be quite lucrative.
Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound, said that pleasure product consumers are more savvy than ever when it comes to their online needs — and retailers who meet those needs will be the ones who thrive in 2017.
The largest trend I see right now is shop owners teaming up with sex experts and offering free online education such as webinars, e-books and other sex ed content. -Domina Doll, AdultShopping.com
“Customers want their orders fast, with a higher level of customer support and a seamless return policy,” Rodriguez told XBIZ. “Looking ahead (in) 2017, I believe that as technology erodes barriers of entry, we’ll see more and more e-commerce shops pop up — and customers will be inundated with choices. For us, the big opportunity is to continue to build brand loyalty by providing an unparalleled customer experience. If we don’t, the customer will just go elsewhere.”
Nick Mahler, director of sales and purchasing for Dallas Novelty, said that understanding the billing/payment needs of mobile users will be vital for adult e-commerce companies this year.
“The last year has seen a huge swing to mobile/tablet shopping versus people shopping on a PC (or) laptop,” Mahler told XBIZ. “We have tried to stay on top of all the latest coding to make the pages load quicker while still being very secure. 2017 will see more people using digital wallets such as ApplePay, AndroidPay and also, Payments by Amazon/Google. These digital wallet payment systems allow customers to pay for products without having to enter any credit card information for an even more secure shopping experience. I also think there will be a resurgence of digital currency like bitcoin, as the payment underwent an overhaul.”
Domina Doll, partner relations manager for AdultShopping.com, observed that adult e-commerce sites are not only competing with other adult e-commerce sites when it comes to selling sex toys — they are also competing with Amazon and other mainstream sites.
“With the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon and sex toys becoming more mainstream, there are more people buying and using adult products than ever before,” Domina told XBIZ. “While that is good for the sex toy industry overall, it means more competition from mainstream stores like drug stores, large department stores and Amazon that adult stores need to contend with. Adult shop owners are going to have to put more effort into their marketing strategies and learn new ways to promote themselves. Many affiliate store owners think you can just put up your store online, and people will find you; in reality, online sex toy shops need to learn or hire someone to market their stores in creative ways — which takes an investment in time and money, just like any other business.”
Domina added: “The largest trend I see right now is shop owners teaming up with sex experts and offering free online education such as webinars, e-books and other sex ed content. This is a great way to engage new and existing customers and to keep them coming back. That’s why I launched Sexperteaze.com.”
Chelsea McCain, sex toy manager for Adult Empire, predicted that pleasure product kits will do well for online retailers this year.
“I think kits will start to expand more and more,” McCain told XBIZ. “Kits are packed with products so that customers can try numerous things for one set price. Even visually, it’s more exciting to get a kit rather than just one product — that bang-for-your-buck mindset. Kits are also perfect for beginners to feel out which future sex toy route they may want to venture in while still keeping it tame and simple. That discovering of something new could push them down a toy direction that they have never dabbled in before, which can later bring on more business. For a couple, kits are a good way to experiment.”
Megan Wozniak, Adult Empire’s director of marketing, said that social remains an important communication tool for online retailers in 2017.
“Social media represents a low-cost way to engage customers in two-way dialogue and develop deeper relationships,” Wozniak told XBIZ. “Use social media as a tool and not simply just as a platform to push product. By providing consistent communication throughout the customer experience in real-time, businesses have an opportunity to engage and learn from their audiences like never before.”
Unbound’s Rodriguez, however, said that social media presents its challenges for online retailers.
“To be candid, social media has been a huge pain point for us,” Rodriguez asserted. “We are continually disappointed with Facebook and Instagram’s stance on ad policies, which prohibit us from any paid advertising opportunities and shove us down in the news feed algorithm. That said, we’re working hard to build a grassroots social following reflective of our core ethos: sex positivity and female empowerment, and we’ve found that to resonate well with our audience.”
Alice Little, head of online trading for Lovehoney, said that mobile optimization will be crucial for adult e-tailers in 2017.
“There will be a continued shift towards mobile shopping, with customers demanding better, more intuitive website design,” Little told XBIZ. “Mobile shopping means we’ll continue to see early shopping spikes: people shopping before work, especially on their cell phones. Customers will expect deliveries to be quicker and more convenient, and they will expect to be more informed about progress.”
Online retailers, Little added, will need to pay close attention to regional variations in 2017.
“We have seven retail websites globally, each tuned slightly differently to meet the requirements of the customer in those regions,” Little explained. “Sales figures are a real pure form of feedback: if people like what they see, they’ll put their hands in their pocket. We carefully analyze sales, paying close attention to trends and regional differences to anticipate what the customer wants before they even realize it themselves.”