If sex toy users from the year 1986 had looked into a crystal ball, they would have been shocked by what the retail and distribution landscape would look like for sex toys and pleasure products 30 years later in 2016. They would have been surprised by the degree to which sex toys have infiltrated mainstream pop culture and the fact that marketing to women and couples has become such a high priority for retailers, manufacturers and distributors. And as the summer of 2016 moves along, adult retail and the sex toys market will no doubt continue to move in an increasingly mainstream-minded, female-friendly direction.
Erin V., marketing and vendor liaison for Williams Trading Co., noted that mainstream pop culture has been giving sex toys quite a boost in adult retail.
When popular shows or media incorporate the use of sex toys in their content, it builds a foundation of acceptance and counters some of the taboos about purchasing and using sex toys. —Phoebe Grott, Babeland
Erin told XBIZ, “Pop culture hits like 'Sex and the City' and 'Fifty Shades of Grey' have helped ignite a more open conversation about sex and pleasure, making vibrators a part of our cultural zeitgeist. I believe the more adult retailers bring education and dialogue about pleasure products out of the bedroom and into the mainstream, we'll ultimately break down every barrier to purchasing adult toys, romance enhancements and sexual health products.”
According to Erin, e-commerce is not necessarily discouraging consumers from purchasing sex toys from brick-and-mortar stores — in some cases, it appears to be helping.
“In the past few years, as online shopping exploded and smartphones became the norm, the showrooming phenomenon seemed poised to gut the revenue of offline retailers,” Erin explained. “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 showrooming or webrooming, 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 for purchase. People want to see and feel a product. They want the shopping experience.”
Erin pointed out that the use of mainstream marketing terminology can help retailers sell sex toys.
“Adult products that incorporate mainstream and niche technologies are entering U.S. distribution at the fastest rate,” Erin asserted. “Think about it: if the majority of adult retail customers are mainstream, then it makes sense that products that have mainstream features will capture their attention. These market call-outs include features such as body-safe, rechargeable, USB-compatible, organic, etc. These phrases are used in mainstream marketing and already appeal to the mainstream adult consumer.”
Erin noted that she “recently conducted a small survey of adult store customers to gauge their experience in an adult shop and to help understand what drives their decision to purchase an adult product.” And when consumers were asked why they originally came into an adult store, 27 percent said “just browsing” while others said they were specifically looking for vibrators, lubes, lotions or oils. In other words, roughly three of four had specific types of pleasure products in mind.
Ken Sahn, president of Holiday Products, stressed that consumers have grown increasingly savvy where sex toys are concerned. Sahn told XBIZ, “Consumers are considerably more aware of brands, quality and function than they were in the recent past.”
Asked to cite some brands and products that are performing especially well in 2016, Sahn replied, “We-Vibe is our top-selling product by far. Womanizer, Blush Novelties, CalExotics, Classic Erotica and Jopen are also very strong lines.”
Sahn added, “Rechargeable vibrators continue to dominate. However, with dominating We-Vibe, the couples vibe sector has shown enormous growth. Lastly, prostate health and anal products such as butt plugs, prostate massagers, lubricants and enhancers for anal sex have also seen very strong growth in recent years.”
Phoebe Grott, senior buyer for Babeland, noted that “Fifty Shades of Grey” has been great for adult retail. Grott told XBIZ, “When popular shows or media incorporate the use of sex toys in their content, it builds a foundation of acceptance and counters some of the taboos about purchasing and using sex toys. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ brought people into Babeland stores for the first time and got people talking.”
Grott, reflecting on sex toys that are performing well for Babeland, observed, “The most popular products continue to be dual-action, rabbit-style vibrators, wand vibrators and toys that couples can use together. The rechargeable toy category is popular, but we still have customers asking for battery-powered toys because they don’t have to be left out on the nightstand while charging.”
Catherine Korfel, representative for Eldorado Trading Company, noted that for retailers, the “hot products of the moment” include the “the oh-so-hot Womanizer” as well as “VeDO by Savvy and other great products from Nu Sensuelle and Blush.”
Korfel told XBIZ, “Last year was the year of the masturbators; this year is the year of dongs and dildos. Almost every major brand has been releasing a dong line, from Pipedream’s King Cock to NS Novelties’ Colours lines. We are also seeing consumers wanting their toy to last but don’t want to break the bank — but also, don’t want to buy at a low price either, as it cheapens the value of the toy, which is leading to growth for the mid-range price point silicone toy. Additionally, couples’ toys and high-end women’s toys continue to grow.”
Korfel doesn’t see any sign of the mainstreaming of sex toys slowing down — in fact, she said, it continues to accelerate.
“Consumers are definitely becoming savvier about sex toys,” Korfel asserted. “With more and more mainstream publications talking about sexual health and wellness, adult toys are becoming less taboo. With the Internet being a wealth of information, most people use that as their first source for all things sex-related and will therefore, walk into a store a lot more educated these days. If a brand is advertised in mainstream media, a name can go a long way.”