trends

Retailers Unwrap Gift-Giving Season’s Top Trends, Strategies

Retailers Unwrap Gift-Giving Season’s Top Trends, Strategies

The holiday gift-shopping season is upon us, kicking off on Black Friday — aka the day when we see people fighting over discounted department-store merchandise on the evening news. Adult retailers may not attract as intense of a crowd, but nonetheless benefit from offering pleasure products to indulge in — or gift, of course.

This time of year is a gift to adult retailers. It also happens to be known as “cuffing season,” meaning individuals are coupling up and intimacy is running high. While sex toys might not be at the very top of everyone’s holiday gift-shopping list, the right selection of affordable, tasteful sensual goodies is irresistible to anyone looking for a romantic gift.

Pleasure products have become way more acceptable as gifts — and it's not just gift-giving between partners.

“Anything can be a holiday gift if the packaging is pretty and subtle enough,” said Veronica Garcia, sales and operations manager for Holiday Products. “I feel like the key to great gift-giving is to get someone something they might never buy themselves, like a high-end wand massager, an elegant toy storage solution, or that lingerie they’ve had their eye on.”

Pleasure products make excellent gifts for so many reasons. Whether you’re gifting someone with their first toy ever, or introducing an experienced toy user to the latest design, or want to treat your partner to something special in the bedroom, the opportunities for adult retail sales seem limitless.

“December is really a time when you either relax or everything becomes even more hectic — so either way you need something to make you feel good,” said Sophie McGrath, head of customer satisfaction for AdultToyMegaStore.co.nz. “That’s why toys and adult products make such good gifts. Our customers are just so diverse, they’re all genders, all ages, and they come from all over the world. The unifying factor is that they all know that toys are a wonderful gift because they’re literally the gift that keeps on giving! We also see so many couples that want to spice things up after a year of work and stress — they want that Christmas release and they’re taking charge to make it happen.”

Once it’s November, it isn’t long until every retail store that you step into is decked out with snowmen, reindeer and everything else Santa-related. The holidays also take over adult stores, which are primed and ready to help customers find the perfect gifts for their loved ones.

The best gifts are those that are the most thoughtfully put together, and behind them is the marketing prowess of retailers that are making pleasure products the must-haves for the season. From one-on-one gift-buying support and special shopping events to specially curated gift sets, adult retailers are working harder than Santa’s elves to provide customers with the best experience. one that will have them coming back for all of their intimacy product needs. In this month’s special report, we hear directly from retailers about their top strategies and product selection for the holidays.

Erotic Shopping Season

Before we get into retailers’ picks for the holidays’ bestsellers, let’s take a look at who is behind all of these pleasure product purchases. While sex toys and lingerie are the staples of romantic holidays like Valentine’s Day and special occasions like bachelorette parties and anniversaries, who’s shopping for erotic presents during “the most wonderful time of the year”?

“During the holidays we get a lot more guys wanting to buy something for their wife or lover,” Dallas Novelty’s Nick Mahler said. “We’ve also seen more gay men buying toys of all kinds during the holidays, from strokers and quality lubricants to large anal plugs.”

Rachel McCarthy, assistant manager at Love Stuff and More, also sees an influx of male shoppers during the winter holidays.

“The ladies come in, or see a product online, and oftentimes their husbands or boyfriends come in to get it for them,” says McCarthy.

With all the warm feelings that the holidays bring, some couples may be more inclined to indulge in sexual pleasure.

“It’s not uncommon for someone to be hesitant on expressing their excitement to introduce these items into the bedroom because they do not want to make their partner feel inadequate,” says Megan Swartz, general manager for the Deja Vu Love Boutique chain. “Therefore, the gift-giving season is a great opportunity for the partner to be the one to initiate this play, allowing their partner to know that they are also excited to use these products.”

Holiday patrons of adult shops don’t just consist of men, of course, and the occasion doesn’t always involve an intimate partner.

“In our store, we see a lot of office workers come in to buy Secret Santa and White Elephant presents for coworkers,” McCarthy adds. “And over the past few years, these shoppers aren’t just buying gag gifts that will make everyone laugh. We have customers who put a lot of thought into picking out a gift that the recipient will actually use. And with nice quality products being so affordable these days, they can comfortably shop within the gift-giving budget they are allowed.”

With the growing acceptance of sex toys, the scope of pleasure-related gift recipients is expanding to include close friends, neighbors, even sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.

“There is no typical demographic but we do see many shoppers during the holiday that we don't see during the regular year,” Fantasy Gifts NJ owner Dee Bertino said. “Pleasure products have become way more acceptable as gifts — and it's not just gift-giving between partners. We have women buying starter vibrators for their daughters and masturbators or condoms as stocking stuffers for their sons. We also have shoppers looking for White Elephant or gag gifts for their office or neighborhood holiday parties. And women are becoming far more comfortable giving their favorite vibrators to their friends as holiday gifts.”

Natalie Johnson Annis, CEO of online retailer Like a Kitten, also is seeing more women be more open with their gal pals about their sex toy recommendations. After all, self-pleasure is a form of self-care.

Annis says, “Women’s empowerment issues are on the rise, and what better way to empower your friends than by gifting them with some toys for solo fun?”

According to Sabrina Earnshaw, sales manager at Lovehoney, there are three types of holiday shoppers that have pleasure products on their list: “Individuals looking to treat themselves with something nice, couples looking for a special gift and wanting to reconnect over the festive period, and customers looking for something fun and premium to share with their friends at Christmas parties and events.”

As much as sex is a normal part of life, sex toys will still get a laugh during holiday gift exchanges with friends and colleagues, thereby making them perfectly acceptable. It could actually provide the perfect smokescreen for people that are normally ashamed to purchase pleasure products.

“Everyone says they are for Dirty Santa gifts but they never say how many people are invited to the party,” said Tami Rose, manager and owner of the Romantic Adventures store in Mississippi. “We have no judgment if it's just a party of two.”

As we see sex toys being gifted among housewives on reality TV shows, and more pleasure recommendations in our favorite magazines, consumers are becoming more comfortable following suit. International brands like Berlin-based Amorelie have taken it upon themselves to bring pleasure awareness to the masses.

“We’ve been promoting adult toys and products as a lifestyle choice that enhance your love life through daytime TV spots since 2014,” said Mira Waidelich, the senior manager of B2B distributor sales for Amorelie. “These ads have helped us to get the message across that pleasure products are more acceptable to people of all demographics.”

’Tis the Season for Holiday-Themed Toys

Immediately following Thanksgiving and sometimes as early as in October, any retail store you enter will remind you about your pending holiday shopping list with a plethora of themed goodies on display. The same goes for adult retail stores, which have a selection of seasonal items.

“Everybody loves a reason to celebrate and holiday-themed gifts help bring out a festive spirit,” Annis said. “Some of our favorites are Christmas Sex Crackers with a sex toy and position cards inside [from Kheper Games] and Naughty or Nice board game [from Creative Conceptions].”

Holiday-themed wares will capture the attention of store visitors and serve as a reminder to start thinking about those gifts they want to buy their loved ones.

“That being said, anything ‘too’ holiday-themed must be priced appropriately or shoppers will not purchase it,” Bertino said. “Whether it's a Santa outfit or a novelty gift, if it's limited to Christmas use, it must be more of a stocking stuffer price point or our customers will not purchase it.”

Much like we see holiday-themed merchandise wind up on clearance shelves, an overabundance of seasonal items can be a loss to retailers.

“The holiday season really isn’t that long, honestly,” McCarthy says, “So holiday-themed items have to be chosen very carefully so we aren’t left with a ton of seasonal products once the holidays have passed.”

Given their popularity, retailers also expect quality from the assortment of novelties and sex toys marketed with the holidays in mind.

“Our view is they should be high-quality even if they’re a product you might only buy once a year,” McGrath said. “So we have really beautiful candy-cane-shaped glass dildos and high-quality costumes. Also, products like the Clone-A-Willy aren’t Christmas-themed but they’re such a fun and funny Christmas activity that sell consistently every year.”

Other items that perform well for adult retailers during the holidays include “sexy Santa costumes, Christmas-colored items, novelty gifts, advent calendars and more,” says Lana Grypych, Pinkcherry director of marketing.

“Almost anything in the adult category has a good chance of selling this time of year, as there is a diverse variety of shoppers,” she adds. “The adult shopper goes into an adult business or shops online specifically looking for things that other mainstream businesses do not sell.”

Advent calendars tend to garner substantial attention from mainstream. Originally designed for children to celebrate the arrival of Christmas, the concept of opening up a little window for a small daily gift is one that is appealing to anyone, religious or not.

“Advent calendars are a huge hit — better to get good sex than socks,” Earnshaw says. “They also add an element of surprise by building the anticipation and can help couples get in the mood with a new product every day. Plus, it means customers have everything they need in one kit. Easy!”

Not only can shoppers find an assortment of “traditional” advent calendars offering all 24 daily gifts, but there also are other options, such as the Fifty Shades of Grey 10 Days of Play, or Sweet Sensations, which includes seven windows.

Berlin-based Amorelie is among Europe’s pioneers in the advent calendar space, offering an assortment of options to choose from. The company also caters to a wide demographic with specially created erotic gift box sets.

“Currently Amorelie curates 19 gift boxes for couples, singles and mothers, post-baby,” Waidelich said. “And more recently, [we added] two box sets specifically targeting gay couples: Queer Queens and Queer Kings.”

Gifting Luxury

If holiday sales commercials teach us anything, it is that the holidays may be the time of year to go all out and gift that special someone, or oneself, with a big-ticket item. But considering that many people have more than one person to buy gifts for, realistically, a lot of shoppers are looking to get the most bang for their buck.

According to McCarthy, Love Stuff and More sees a lot of customers who save up to purchase high-end products at the end of the year.

“They see something really luxurious earlier in the year and start saving up for it,” she said, though she quickly points out that high-end isn’t the season’s biggest seller.

“A lot of our customers come in for the really great quality, more budget-friendly items we stock as well,” McCarthy said. “They almost all like powerful motors, eye-catching designs, and items that are rechargeable. Also, they don’t want complicated buttons. Travel locks are really great, but if a toy is too difficult to turn on and off easily, it doesn’t matter how much they might have liked it otherwise.”

While it makes sense to hold out for the holidays to make that large gift purchase, pleasure products are often used to upgrade people’s “regular” gifts.

“Surprisingly we have found our customers do not prefer high-end items for gift giving,” Bertino said. “We feel our products are more an ‘in addition to’ present instead of the main show. A partner may purchase an expensive piece of jewelry or clothing and then only want to spend $50 on a sex toy to complete the gift.”

A major factor that makes high-end pleasure products giftable is their packaging, which is typically designed to be unwrapped like a present, and may include a keepsake box or sleek pouches for long-term storage.

“Customers want to feel they are giving an actual gift and will be more likely to purchase an item in box rather than in a clamshell,” Bertino adds.

According to David Goldman, owner of Skitzo Kitty Lingerie in Palm Desert, California, it’s distinctly the packaging of high-end pleasure products that makes them popular during the holiday season.

“Packaging is everything,” he said. “High-end toys tend to have the more appealing packaging, which makes them popular for holiday gifts. The product features most of our customers are looking for tend to be the bundling of toys. We-Vibe has done a good job with their holiday gift sets.”

The beautiful thing about a gift is that the recipient typically doesn’t know how much you spent on it, and as long as the recipient loves it, everybody wins.

“It’s important to have gift products available for every budget, and elegant packaging can make an inexpensive item seem classy and high-end,” Annis said.

McCarthy further stresses the importance of packaging, noting that even if the product itself is exquisite, if the packaging is less-than stellar, customers won’t even bother picking it up off the shelf.

“An eye-catching design will draw a customer across the store without having a sales clerk point the item out,” she said. “When the store is small and busy, a customer can and will find exactly what they want before a clerk can sometimes engage them past a greeting if they are tending to another customer. So yeah, great packaging is super important.”

Holiday Bestsellers

As we funnel through the different types of bestselling pleasure products for the holidays, retailers and distributors break down some of the specific features that catch shoppers’ eyes this time of year. With so many products on the market and so many sexual interests, and limits, to consider, retailers have a wide spectrum to work with.

“Product features that guests might be looking for in terms of gifting items would typically be toys that would be considered bedroom basics,” Swartz said. “If you’re buying a gift for someone you are not, and do not intend to be, intimate with, it can be difficult to assume what they might be into. In these cases we would typically recommend introductory items that are bestsellers to a wider range of guests. For example, the Original Massager or Petite Massager by Le Wand is a wonderful suggestion for someone to gift — a full-body massage, and they come in gender-neutral colors with gift-ready packaging.”

Bertino also points out that the winter holidays don’t have to be couples-oriented, and a lot of sensual gifts that are purchased are meant to be enjoyed alone.

“Partners want to give presents that will give their partners the most pleasure so they are not necessarily looking for pure partner toys but rather toys that can be used during solo play,” she said.

Gifting something that could make someone’s life easier is often one of the key motivations behind shopping. Orgasms, particularly if they’re reached quickly, can be the perfect gift for some of today’s hard-working women.

“Clitoral stimulators have been going so well for us. The Satisfyer Pro 2.0 has definitely been huge — we recently organized two parties just to celebrate how many folks just love this toy, and the parties sold out in hours! Both of them,” McGrath said. “The whole Satisfyer range has been great for us. People really love these rechargeable waterproof toys, and toys that focus on a quick climax for our busy lives. The We-Vibe Sync has continued to be really popular — it’s just such a great toy with couples. We consistently have fantastic reviews because it’s such a high-quality product.”

Every shopper is looking for toys with that special sparkle.

“Pick something that has a little bling or shimmer, as well as fantastic features, and you have the makings of a very memorable gift,” said Holiday Products' Veronica Garcia.

Nevertheless, it’s the fun, sexy accessories, as well as games that could serve as stocking stuffers, that shine the brightest during the holidays.

“Games are very giftable, especially board games, and smaller dice or cards make great stocking-stuffers,” Garcia said. “Thoughtfully assembled gift sets do well for the holidays, as they usually contain products that go together and are presented in a fun or romantic way. And lube of course. Lube is popular any time of the year! Why not indulge in an assortment of flavors and styles to see what you and your partner like best, and wrap it up in a gift box?”

According to Tami Rose, she provides Romantic Adventures shoppers with an assortment of toys and accessories to stir their sensual imaginations.

“There is certainly some high-end gifting but it’s more a matter of fantasy creation and making sure they leave with everything they need to act out a given scenario,” she said. “Small gifts of bullets or butt plugs or random grab bags are far more of the volume of what we sell, but we often attach Valentine's coupons to the grab bags so we can do our best to make a casual gifter a repeat shopper. We try to make sure everyone has fun so they make a fun memory and want to come back.”

Smaller, stocking-stuffer-sized items also are more discreet, which could make them the perfect gift for the more modest gift recipient.

“For those that are more subtle in their approach, there are many discreet toys and accessories on the market, so toys that don't look like toys are a good suggestion,” Pinkcherry's Grypych said. “The bath and body category offers less risqué options too, so brands like Earthly Body are ideal to keep in stock.”

With new toys being introduced every year, and increasing visibility in mainstream media, pleasure products are becoming holiday staples.

“It changes year to year,” Love Stuff and More's McCarthy said. “I think it really depends on what’s new and hot, as adult products become more mainstream and potential shoppers are more exposed to what’s out there.”

Retail Wonderland

Customers who may not be thinking about shopping for presents will be as soon as they step inside an adult retail store. Just like most places of business during the holidays, adult stores partake in the holiday cheer with décor and themed sales promotions.

“Preparing for the holidays starts early. As soon as vendors start introducing their holiday items we are buying them and storing them for the holidays so we don't risk not being able to get them,” Bertino said. “Store window display ideas also start a year in advance. On Nov. 1, we transition very quickly from Halloween to ‘holiday wonderland.’ Because this is such a quick turnaround, we have to have everything planned and purchased well in advance.”

Deja Vu goes the distance by fully embracing each holiday. Last month, to celebrate Halloween, store associates were encouraged to dress up in costumes.

“We believe it is very important for our store, as well as our associates, to look the part when it comes to the holidays,” Swartz said. “We find that this wildly contributes in our push to advertise our store on social media by our 25-plus associates at each location. It is also fun and makes it easier to offer guests comfort when they can get a little chuckle out of being assisted with their vibrator selection by a priest, nun, schoolgirl, or even a witch.”

“I believe it is important to incorporate seasonal themes into every retail setting, but in our industry it is vital,” Swartz added. “Take that opportunity to be fun and whimsical. All of that will only increase the comfort of your guests and, in turn, translate to higher sales.”

According to Bertino, Fantasy Gifts believes in a whole-store approach to the holidays. In addition to making sure the store has plenty of holiday-friendly products in stock and is decorated appropriately, the retailer hosts an annual men’s shopping night, providing shopping assistance and gift-wrapping along with drinks and appetizers.

“We want all of our shoppers to see every item, whether it's a sex toy, a piece of lingerie, a lubricant or a bondage piece, as a potential gift-giving item,” Bertino said. “We put holiday bows on our products throughout the store and cross-merchandise with holiday-themed merchandise. While our employees don't always enjoy it, holiday-themed music begins the day after Thanksgiving and lasts until Christmas Eve. We offer free holiday gift bags for qualifying purchase. We want all of our customers who walk in the store to think, ‘Oh, that'd be a cute gift for so-and-so. I hadn't thought of that, I'll buy it!’”

McGrath says that Adult Toy Mega Store also starts preparing for the holidays early, as the retailer sets out to find the best products to stock for gift buyers. Among this year’s most sought-after toys that the retailer is making sure to have on hand is Satisfyer’s range of products, We-Vibe, Bodywand and other holiday favorites like play sets and couples’ kits.

“We also make sure our warehouse is ready,” she said. “We have a huge sale and mystery bag promotion too and that’s a big part of our focus — making sure people get quality products and great prices. Our in-house algorithm makes sure we are keeping our prices competitive. Ensuring our customers get the best deal is really important to us at all times of the year, not just at Christmas. But obviously, during the holiday season money can be tight; we want to make sure we are giving our customers bang for their buck.”

Amorelie gears up for the holiday season all year, designing erotic advent calendars filled with curated products for various markets. Waidelich says that the company also has a TV spot and produces a weekly podcast with some dedicated to holiday shopping.

“Amorelie also runs numerous social media campaigns in the lead-up to the launch and with the extra media surrounding our star collaborator, Marina Hoermanseder, this elevates the notoriety of the products across Europe,” Waidelich said.

Holiday decorating is a must for retailers to engage visitors and get them in the mood to shop. Throughout the year, retailers dress up to reflect just about any seasonal holiday — particularly for those that involve gifts.

“We go all-out decorating for the holidays,” McCarthy said. “And not just some garland or Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling, either! I’m talking fake snow on the display tables, building a fake fireplace complete with stockings around a gondola, Christmas trees using products as ornaments. We love making little scenes, kind of like a naughtier version of the dioramas we all remember making for school projects. And the customers love it!”

According to Goldman, Skitzo Kitty Lingerie decorates its retail location according to the holiday, but doesn’t go “over the top.”

“We dress the mannequins in holiday lingerie,” he said. “We build gift baskets with a wide range of price points and product pairings. The seasonal theme is not as important as focusing on the clients' goals. People are aware that it is the holiday season. The client's needs are the priority and they tend to have nothing to do with the season. We will gift-wrap and provide seasonal cards, but the seasonal pleasure products don't make sense. We show products that are good for all seasons.”

Holiday decorating could provide that warmth and familiarity that can draw new shoppers.

“We decorate the outside with Christmas lights and try to make the parking lot clean and inviting,” Rose said of the Romantic Adventures store. “We put sexy Christmas costumes on the mannequins and try to keep lots of easy, colorful things piled on our display tables near higher-end displays so even while they are shopping for a quick $20 gift for the office party, they see this high-end panty vibe they may want to gift for Valentine’s Day.”

Swartz emphasizes how important it is for retailers to dedicate their focus to the holidays, noting that the holidays not only drive Deja Vu’s in-store look but its marketing.

“We take advantage of any reason to introduce a playful party atmosphere and remind guests of the upcoming holiday,” she said. “We also make sure our monthly companywide promotion is structured around the holidays. For example, during the months of December and February, we always feature a high-end line as our special to help boost those sales when traffic is heavier.”

McCarthy says that in addition to holiday promos and sales, Love Stuff and More is offering its customers raffle baskets and giveaways to celebrate the season.

“We can’t offer later holiday hours like other, more mainstream retail stores are able to do, and Black Friday is not as insane as, say, a department store, but we get pretty busy over that weekend as a whole,” she said. “We always run a special raffle for Black Friday weekend, alongside our usual monthly raffle, and offer giveaways and sales for that weekend as well.”

Goldman says that more important than decking out one’s store in garland and fake snow is providing customer service — the ultimate marketing tool.

“It helps having a knowledgeable staff to help guide customers to products that will enhance their sex lives and make them happier people,” he said. “It is the staff that makes the difference in whether or not the customers are comfortable giving pleasure products as holiday gifts.”

Garcia also stresses the importance of providing extra customer support during the holidays. For shoppers who prefer to shop alone, easy-to-find information can provide all of the encouragement they need to make a purchase.

“In my experience, retailers greatly benefit by offering some sort of gift guide to help their customers have a smoother gift-buying experience,” Garcia said. “Online, you can create categories to showcase your picks for holiday gifts, and you can even separate them by ‘Naughty’ or ‘Nice’ if you want, or by the recipient a gift may be suitable for, like ‘Your Honey,’ ‘Your Bestie,’ ‘For Your Hair Stylist’ — whatever makes sense to you. Brick-and-mortar stores can tag onto that idea using displays instead of categories, and then decorate the section in seasonal décor to help it stand out even more.”

The holidays are a perfect opportunity to try new strategies for retailing. Embracing the wide array of shoppers who enter adult retail shops during the holidays includes not just focusing on the high-end wares that can be gifted, but also carefully stocking the latest affordable goodies that make shoppers feel like they're getting a deal. Appealing to consumers during the end-of-the-year holidays not only boosts retailers’ sales for the month but, more importantly, it makes it more inviting for them to come back for the next major sales holiday — Valentine’s Day. The most wonderful time of year, indeed.

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