Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Thrive Thanks to Human Touch

Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Thrive Thanks to Human Touch

If you can bear to lift your head from the hypnotic glow of your smartphone, you might just learn something. Modernized pleasure boutiques are on a mission to bring back the age-old tradition of interpersonal communication, all so you can find the perfect sex toy.

Online buying and selling are at an all-time high, and it’s not surprising. Rising operations costs and the surge in internet impulse buys have got brick-and-mortar owners in a choke-hold. Simply put, it’s just a lot cheaper to sell online. However, discerning consumers are catching on to what’s actually missing from their Amazon cart — reality.

There is no substitute for face-to-face interactions with a company you trust.

“Brick-and-mortar is constantly evolving to stay on top of internet sales,” says Dee Bertino, owner of Fantasy Gifts in New Jersey.

Bertino has a laundry list of responsibilities that weren’t even on the radar less than two decades ago.

“We have to stay competitive with online pricing. We have to monitor news outlets and social media so we can stay on top of the latest trends,” she explains.

But most of all, Bertino recognizes one thing: “Information is what keeps customers engaged in a store. There is no substitute for face-to-face interactions with a company you trust.”

Until 3D printers start popping out perfect, usable versions of our favorite silicone-coated accessories, brick-and-mortar stores will always have a huge upper hand over web shops. Even the most creative product descriptions are no substitute for the ever-popular table of demo toys and the sales reps who are dying to show customers how they work.

“Brick-and-mortar has been forced to evolve to provide the things you can’t get online — the ability to touch and feel the material and motions, to express problems to the sales staff and challenge them to find the perfect product for their needs,” says Jacki Mick, who handles social media and marketing communications for the Fairvilla boutique chain. “It’s about the total experience.”

In the spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” physical retailers are taking to the digital space to pull shy internet shoppers off the couch and into their shops. And — go figure — like everything else hyped online, their sales are going viral.

“Over the years, we have tried almost every marketing tool available: print, radio, television,” says Bertino. “Social media is a fun, cost-effective way to engage directly with our existing customers.”

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram keep phone-bound consumers connected to the real world of stores, reminding us that sometimes it’s worth it to put on a pair of pants to acquire a new sex toy. Chain retailers like Fantasy Gifts and Fairvilla, who have run successful targeted ad campaigns on Facebook, can easily advertise a company-wide sale with a single post.

Whatever the advertising method, the internet is the place to be — even if that’s not where your shop is located. The popularity of podcasts has reinvented the radio market, prompting retailers to go back to buying old school-style ad spots on online radio shows. Surprisingly enough, radio has returned as one of the top mediums for reaching today’s young sex toy buyers.

“We’ve made a shift away from traditional radio and instead invested our radio budget in online radio in an attempt to capture some younger customers,” explains Mick, “so that we can make them Fairvilla lifers.”

Once you’ve captured the customer (with consent, of course), how do you keep them hooked? Feelmore owner Nenna Joiner skips the elaborate plan-o-grams in favor of oral education.

“We do not use in-store marketing and displays,” says Joiner, whose shop resides in demographically diverse Oakland. “It’s a move that we are always evaluating, but how we have our boutique set up, it doesn’t bring the value we expect.”

Joiner’s staff takes the place of all those in-your-face, point-of-sale displays, which keeps floor sales associates and prospective customers on their toes and engaged.

“The tactic keeps consultants consistently learning in our environment,” remarks Joiner. “We want people to engage, or else we do not have the opportunity to provide critical information and education.”

Today’s retail sales hinge upon consumers and sales associates connecting through sex education. Staff training sessions are more popular than ever, and the best manufacturer reps create thought-provoking presentations that mix sales techniques, product know-how, and the anatomy of sexual pleasure.

“A knowledgeable employee will be able to help a customer find product and gain their trust,” says Mick. “We create an open and accepting environment [where] every guest that walks through our doors can feel comfortable.”

A genuinely passionate, professional-minded team, once a rarity among your average adult boutique, is now a staple for brick-and-mortars.

“Ringing up sales is such a small fraction of an employees’ job,” notes Bertino.

Emotional intelligence is just as important as staying up-to-date on the endless boxes of new products and brand identities being delivered each month.

In fact, working the floor of an adult boutique requires a special kind of personality. In a sensitive environment where embarrassment is only a single word away — like using “pussy” instead of “vagina,” or vice versa, depending on the client — sex toy sales experts need sharp intuition and a gentle approach.

“Allow your customers to dictate how they want to be engaged,” explains Joiner.

The unofficial golden rule is to essentially feel everything and assume nothing.

“There are all different types of customers, so remember that — otherwise you are applying tactics for one customer that is better fitting for another type of customer,” says Joiner. “Keep it light and give your customers space. Just because someone walks into a store doesn’t mean they want you to approach them at every step in the purchase funnel.”

At the very best, a shy, blushing customer might still leave enlightened, but they can’t feel too rattled and raw to face your staff again.

“We want the consumer to leave feeling good about their purchase and their experience,” says Mick. “The better they feel, the more likely they’ll be back.”

At the core, daring to purchase sex toys in the physical realm boils down to exactly such a theme: a real, live experience. The lure of a glowing screen and trendy hashtag buzzwords are hard to resist, but unlike a sketchy Tinder date, some decisions are best made in the real world. Even the excitement of a snail mail vibrator delivery is scarcely a stand-in for activating our five senses in the flesh.

Want your shop to flourish? Leveling up those almost-forgotten people skills is the name of the game.

“More stores are opening that use the words ‘boutique,’ ‘feminist,’ and ‘woman-owned,’ so new stores are falling into a stereotype opposite to the old adult store,” concludes Joiner. “Now we are all the same on paper, but it is what happens in-store that separates the boutiques from the busts!”