trends

Manufacturers Strike Balance Between Classic Designs, Innovative Tech

Manufacturers Strike Balance Between Classic Designs, Innovative Tech
Colleen Godin

The sex toy design cycle has finally come full circle. While in 2016, sex toys went full steam into the tech world, 2017 has slowed the race to the next-best-thing and brought consumers back to basics.

Last year’s futuristic trends of virtual reality porn, interactive sex toys and teledildonics have made a big impact on design standards for all levels of pleasure products. Seasoned retail customers have eagerly kept their fingers on the pulse of sex-tech, and expect superior quality and functionality from sex toy standards and new inventions alike.

There are still tons of toy newbies who are surprised and tickled to find that the industry has evolved as much as it has. -Alison Barber, Taboo Adult Boutique

“Customers who have spent more time in the market really appreciate the advances, and look forward to the next big thing,” says Alison Barber, owner of Taboo adult boutique in Richmond, Va. When technology isn’t center-stage, subtle touches of tech still make their way into classic designs.

“Rechargeability is definitely becoming an industry standard, and I’m so glad,” Barber said.

The vast majority of sex toys are now rechargeable, and most are still within budget reach for the bulk of consumers. However, Barber notes at least one battery-less blunder. “Now if only we could agree on a universal charger so I don’t have to spend entire weekends sorting through my collection, matching toys with their charging cables!”

Although super-high-end tech is still gaining ground with teledildonics companies like Kiiroo, a lot of consumers are just as content to stick with the basics.

“In my opinion, consumers couldn’t care less about tech until they are told that they should care about it, either by popular blogs, social media, magazines, or TV/ radio shows,” says Molly Romeo, sales executive at Holiday Products.

At the junction of supply and demand, there is a clear divide between what gets industry insiders excited and what consumers actually want.

“I feel like the tech part is more important to us in the industry, because, let’s face it, we’ve seen it all by now and are craving something different,” Romeo said.

When tech made an appearance this year, it was usually hand-in-hand with a smart phone.

“Babeland’s high-tech selections often include toys that use apps, like the We-Vibe Sync,” Babeland PR Manager Pamela Doan said. “They offer an option that many customers find interesting.”

Although app-friendly toys are fairly common to industry businesses, some consumers are still playing catch-up. “There are still tons of toy newbies who are surprised (and tickled) to find that the industry has evolved as much as it has,” Barber said. “A lot of people still don’t expect rechargeable toys, and innovation — like toys with apps — blows them away.”

In the wake of the smart phone generation, the ol’ classics are still alive and kicking at the retail level. You can only improve upon an old standard so many times before winding up back where you began.

“The rabbit shape is a long time favorite,” Barber says. “The wand style has also become increasingly popular in recent years.”

Instead of pushing for another wave of obscure designs, many manufacturers revamped fan favorites like the wand, to improve upon their few flaws.

“The Original Magic Wand is still popular, but smaller, less cumbersome wands are really taking center stage,” notes Barber.

Vibratex launched the first rechargeable version of the original white Magic Wand, which was met with rave reviews from sex toy bloggers. Tantus also crafted its own unique take on the wand, the Rumble, which ditched the standard, cumbersome length and weight in lieu of a shorter, feather-light version made to fit more body types and physical abilities. An entire brand was even sculpted around the wand experience, titled — appropriately — Le Wand, and amped up with a whopping 10 vibrational speeds and 20 pulsation settings, a rarity for this traditionally two-speed device.

The wand was far from alone in getting a makeover. Le Wand’s sister brand, b-Vibe, added a never-before-seen feature to the world’s most well-loved, T-shaped butt plug: an electronic rim job. Similar to the rows of spinning metal beads often seen in rabbit-style designs, b-Vibe took this concept and put it where the sun doesn’t shine, adding a series of dancing beads to the slender neck of their plug. You know you’ve hit booty toy gold when known anal aficionado and sex educator Charlie Glickman gives your product his blessing.

Popular tech sweethearts Crave also took a familiar face back to the drawing board with their re-imagined Bullet. Forget watch battery woes and accidental speed changes. Their rechargeable, stainless steel take on everyone’s most loved-and-hated mini vibrator offers an “ah-ha!” feature that leaves us wondering why we hadn’t thought of it sooner: a recessed button.

On the innovative front, this year’s most notable toys nodded in the direction of the Womanizer. Unsurprisingly, oral sex simulators for women were some of the most coveted products on the market.

“We have single-handedly created an entirely new category of products,” says Ryan Poirier, the VP of epi24, makers of the Womanizer line of products.

The pleasure industry always loves a spin-off, and although manufacturers might grumble at competing products, the broadening of a category brings more opportunities for retailers and shoppers. The Satisfyer has developed its own range of pressure wave stimulators; while other variations of suctioning toys also have made their way to adult store shelves.

“The Womanizer and Satisfyer fly from our shelves, as do rabbit-style toys with a clitoral sucking feature,” says Barber.

Men have had the luxury of simulated oral sex since the dawn of sex toy time. The pleasure products industry was ripe for a version for clitoris owners. “The excitement about oral sex simulators for women sort of came out of nowhere,” Romeo said. “Based on the extreme popularity of this type of item right now, it was a desperately needed product category.”

Even pleasure business owners are joining the ranks of giddy consumers and jumping on the hype bandwagon.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the interest in toys that simulate oral sex,” Barber said. “Actually, I don’t know why I’m surprised. Cunnilingus is basically the best thing ever.”

As trends wax and wane, even veteran pleasure businesses are unable to pinpoint the next product boom.

“There is no way to predict what the general public will fall in love with,” Romeo said. “I wish I knew.”

But one thing is for certain: we’re definitely going to need a bigger warehouse.

“Remember the Great Balls-On-A-String Shortage of 2011” asks Romeo. “That ’s the best example ever of ‘You Never Know.’”