With 2018 upon us, retailers are hopeful for a new year of profit as they gear up to navigate the vast selection of pleasure products available and keep their eyes on upcoming consumer trends that are driving business.
Domina Doll, partner relations manager at AdultShopping.com/SexToy.com, says that the products that will see the most growth are high-end tech toys, teledildonics — virtually-controlled sex toys, and more innovative designs, for example, the Womanizer’s “Pleasure Air Technology” that mimics clitoral sucking.
We’ve been experimenting with pop-up shops at sexuality and wellness events this year, which has expanded our reach, sales and awareness of our in-store education program, PleasurEd.
“Those are three trends that are becoming more fashionable,” she said. “Also, men are more sex-toy-savvy consumers these days, so the men’s market will continue to grow with more advanced metro-sexual designs. Couple’s toys are also trending, as couples find new ways to spice up their sex life, and of course bondage and BDSM niches will continue to grow with the popularity of the ‘Fifty Shades’ franchise.”
Speaking of the film and book juggernaut, Doll says that with the release of the new “Fifty Shades Freed” movie, BDSM product sales will continue to increase, particularly with the film’s launch timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day, usually the industry’s largest retail season next to Black Friday.
“The new ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ line from Lovehoney is gorgeous, however, more hardcore lines like Kink by Doc Johnson that offer naughtier choices for couples who want to explore their darker passions, are gaining more acceptance as well.”
In the coming year, Doll says vendors and consumers can expect a new checkout system recently launched and built by CNV.com for the AdultShopping platform.
“It features a single-page design, making it easier for customers to check out,” Doll said. “In addition, we’ll soon be implementing Amazon Pay to help mobile users stay on the checkout and complete their purchases with the greatest ease. These changes will increase conversions for our affiliates.”
According to Doll, research shows that 60 percent of web sales traffic starts on a mobile device, but only 35 percent complete their purchase.
CNV.com CTO Tom Mercer adds, “We project that implementing these two big improvements for the site will increase sales, with less abandoned carts and more revenue for everyone.”
Doll notes that the biggest adult retail trend in 2017 was an increase in independent sex toy designers using crowd-funding to bring their ideas to life. She also saw an increase in toys designed by and for women, such as Eva by Dame Products.
“I think women in the sex tech industry will continue to grow with new, pioneering, body-centric, woman-focused products that are designed for women’s pleasure,” Doll said.
To reach new customers in the coming year, Doll says that she plans to promote in a number of ways.
“SexToy.com uses Adwords, SEO, print media, online media, customer educational newsletters, promotions and several other methods to promote our sites,” she said.
Leading up to the holiday shopping season, the company offered a contest, “Win Your Purchase,” during its Black Friday/Cyber Monday Week sale. But perhaps the best promotion of all is the company’s efforts to successfully build and upgrade a user-friendly online store, she suggests; one that is “easily searchable, offers competitive prices, and the largest selection of sex toys online, to satisfy our customers’ needs.”
Sarah Tomchesson, head of business operations at Pleasure Chest, says the company has many plans for the New Year.
“We’ve been experimenting with pop-up shops at sexuality and wellness events this year, which has expanded our reach, sales and awareness of our in-store education program, PleasurEd. We’ve expanded some of our close vendor partnerships with brand features in Pleasure Chest Pop-Ups and anticipate building on our successes in this arena in 2018.”
In regard to the upcoming new “Fifty Shades” release, she believes that while awareness around kink products increased with the phenomenon of the books and films, they haven’t brought the same big spikes in the BDSM category overall for Pleasure Chest.
“That is a perennial favorite in our stores,” she relates. “I do think product sales may spike if the third installment has a strong product focus and builds on the content of the second film, but we do not anticipate a mass rush on Kegel balls, or anything like what we saw with the publication of the first book.”
According to Tomchesson, the effectiveness of traditional advertising channels is on the decline for brick-and-mortar stores.
“Making an authentic connection with people — having them experience our brand, our products and our people in person is much more effective,” she said. “In addition to Pleasure Chest pop-ups at events, we aim to partner with leading publications for presence at their consumer events.”
Megan Swartz, general manager and buyer for Deja Vu Love Boutique in Las Vegas, says she sees continued growth ahead for high-end items, and shrinkage in sales where cheaper “one and done” items are concerned in 2018.
“We see more guests come in showing concern about the materials they are putting in their body,” Swartz said. “It is nice to see people make purchases based on value and not a price tag. In addition to that, it seems like more and more companies are introducing these types of products into their line when their traditional staple may have been the lower-end products.”
Swartz says she foresees a sales spike in BDSM products with the release of “Fifty Shades Freed.”
“We have always seen a spike upon the release of ‘Fifty Shades’ movies,” she said. “It is funny to me when I hear people in our industry knock ‘Fifty Shades,’ because at least for us, it has done so much to bring our business into the forefront. Not only that, guests may have been a little shy to inquire about fetish items [before], but seem to be much more comfortable doing so now. We embrace anything that brings us business.”
In the New Year, Swartz says Deja Vu will do “what we have always done, elevate the level of service expected in our boutiques. We want to change the perspective of adult retail shopping for those that do not frequent stores like these often.”
She explains, “We want to show the guests a good time, offer a ‘wow’ encounter. Make it clear that we are here to create a memorable experience with guests from the register to the bedroom. We will continue to seek out educational information from our vendors to pass along and ensure everyone is playing in a safe manner.”
In 2017, the industry saw suction toys take over the marketplace in a short period of time.
“It seems once that hit the market, it wasn’t long before competitors jumped on that train,” Swartz said. “Now there are at least six manufacturers trying to duplicate that technology, but I will say the original Womanizer is still the cream of the crop.”
To promote and to reach new customers in the coming year, Swartz says that Deja Vu is looking at building relationships with area businesses that might be willing to bring guests to and from its venue.
“We have been working closely with Reef Dispensaries which is just behind our building,” Swartz said. “We sell the smoking accessories and they sell the filler so it was a no-brainer to link up with them. We are going to continue to do so.”
At Feelmore Adult Gallery in Oakland, Calif., founder Nenna Joiner sees novelties and crossover gifts as a category that will continue to grow in the coming year.
“It’s a segue for people to dabble in the adult section without having to walk into an adult store,” Joiner said. “Let’s just call this category ‘Gateway,’ where a customer’s first purchase leads to greater interest. One of my favorites is the ‘Gimp Pen’ offered by Net 1on1 Distribution out of the U.K.”
Joiner also sees the upcoming release of “Fifty Shades Freed” as being a boost to the sale of BDSM/kink products, because of the film’s marketing reach.
“In the Bay Area, stores naturally see sales boosts from other events as well, BDSM/kink festivals such as Folsom Street Fair or Dore Alley,” Joiner said. “Add kink to a movie, and it is bound to explode with sturdy sales for retailers. Lovehoney has a FSF vibrator line to accompany the movie, which we expect to bring in and to do well; however, I believe there will be higher sales for low-cost BDSM/kink gear such as rope, handcuffs, blindfolds and restraints also as an upsell.”
The New Year will also bring in the home stretch of a first-time collaboration for Feelmore with the San Francisco-based Humphry Slocombe ice cream company.
“‘French Tickler’ is the flavor that was created by Humphry Slocombe, and Feelmore was one of five businesses to commemorate their launch,” Joiner attests.
The banana-and-spice cookie-flavored ice cream is just the beginning, Joiner believes, as she looks toward collaboration with other quality brands.
“We will also weigh costs to produce our own dildos and packaging which could help with better fulfillment and provide more variety for our customers,” Joiner said.
As to past and future trends, Joiner says that sex toys and branded sex toys were discussed and made appearances in television shows and film, and she believes that will continue, along with a theme of female empowerment, agency and body positivity.
To promote her company, Joiner uses a physical billboard to advertise.
“That has increased our bullet vibrator sales given our message ‘Our Bullets Don’t Hurt,’” Joiner said. “We will continue to use the billboard and other pop-culture mediums such as a blog, Facebook/Instagram Live, and podcasts.”
Feelmore’s increased visibility outside the adult industry has drawn new customers to the retailer.
“Sometimes the promotion is just luck,” Joiner laughs. “In August, we were contacted by Buzzfeed, which led to over 300k views and countless shares … You must attempt everything within your control.”
Bonnie Feingold, president and CEO of Honey’s Place, predicts continued growth in the luxury product category.
“Our customers are looking for manufacturers that offer high quality, have an innovative product selection; all at an affordable price point,” she said.
Feingold also predicts a spike in sales for Lovehoney’s “Fifty Shades Freed” line.
“They have some of the best POS materials to support it and it is a manageable line for a retail store to take in,” she said. “The popularity of Fifty Shades has continued to open consumer’s minds to explore their sexual fantasies.”
Looking at expectations and trends, she says that lingerie has continued to rise in popularity among retailers for the past three years.
“Honey’s Place will be bringing in more lingerie styles from more designers in 2018.” And also in the coming year, according to Feingold, “We will continue to put our customers first. We treat our customers more like a partner, so we can all be mutually successful. We have one of the best sales and customer service teams in the industry,” she attests. “Honey’s Place will continue to educate and train our account managers and customer service team to listen to our customers, bringing forward their ideas and needs.”