trends

A Look at the Post-Pandemic Retail Comeback

A Look at the Post-Pandemic Retail Comeback

The pandemic has been a roller-coaster that no one could have prepared for when it first began nearly two years ago. However, 2021 served as a year of recovery as businesses returned to their regular operations, and social distancing and travel restrictions started to become more relaxed as more people are vaccinated and protected from the coronavirus — and its variants, hopefully. While the pandemic doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, the coming year is already shaping up to be more promising with the return of the industry’s top B2B gatherings planned for January. As the first-ever in-person and virtual hybrid show, ANME/XBIZ is an example of how the adult retail industry is evolving and reinventing itself to be as successful as possible despite the many challenges created by the pandemic. We’re seeing the industry’s “road warriors” return to visiting stores and conducting product trainings in person, and 2022 promises to continue to bring people together in person, though with all the safety precautions that we’ve grown accustomed to over the past two years.

With the impact from the pandemic still resonating globally, consumers of all ages are continuing to adapt as disruptions to everyday life are still very much present. An undeniable shift has taken place, from the ways consumers invest their money, to how they spend free time, to the dynamics of their intimate relationships. What were initially spontaneous acclimations at the start of the pandemic have now become ingrained habits.

Consumers are increasingly concerned with environmental and social issues, so messaging our body-safe materials, ethical manufacturing and long product life cycle will continue to be important.

Shift Happens

Distributors, manufacturers and retailers have offered similar testimonies regarding how consumer buying habits have shifted since the start of the pandemic.

With an astounding number of people working from home worldwide, consumers are spending more time online — researching, shopping and generally being exposed to constant information from the moment they start their day until they turn in for the night.

Tami Rose of Romantic Adventures noticed that overall, consumers seem more open to trying something new, and less apprehensive about expressing their preferences or what other people might think.

Rose said, “It is kind of nice, because customers have been on their own so much that they have a much better sense of what they like and are more open to trying something different. We used to have to help people overcome their own resistance, but they seem ready to spread their wings and try different stuff, if for no other reason than to break up the monotony.”

Emmy Nicholson, publicist for WOW Tech, also believes that the convenience of online shopping has encouraged consumers to explore pleasure products.

“Working from home gives people the ability to comfortably shop and research toys they are interested in without others seeing or the fear of judgment,” she said.

Rose shared, “Social media and online information hold much more sway than they are used to and learning to watch online trends and stock the hot sellers has been a big part of my success strategy.” Rose mentioned that she visits a variety of websites regularly to gauge consumer interest and sentiment for products on the rise.

Despite the massive uptick in consumers’ digital presence in 2021, opportunities are ripe for in-store traffic.

According to Lulu Batista, owner of Ooh Lulu Cherry Box, customers are making it clear that they are looking for ways to reattain pre-pandemic normalcy, in-store shopping included.

“People want to get back to in-person shopping for the new year,” said Batista. “Doing more shopping events will be great to build back customers.”

Supply Chain Issues

Among the inevitable effects of the pandemic were the delays in shipping of products manufactured overseas. Supply chain issues have caused a lot of frustration for brands that are unable to fulfill orders, but fast-thinking entrepreneurs have figured out how to circumvent the problem through careful planning.

“I believe the macro variables will continue through the new year,” Liberator Wholesale Sales Manager Dennis Brito said. “I don't see any breaks on the horizon. We are working with our customers to help plan for their needs and make timely deliveries to the best of everyone's ability. Thankfully, the demand is still strong.”

Honey’s Place Purchasing Director Kyle Tutino said that the distributor’s exclusive pleasure products brand Viben Toys is fully prepared for any supply chain issues that may arise.

“We launched Viben in a pandemic, with no in-person trade shows or in-person training, so our main challenge is to educate more customers about our exciting new brand,” Tutino said.

Sliquid Senior VP Colin Roy believes that supply chain and logistic challenges will continue in 2022.

“Shipping costs are going through the roof and continuing to rise without an end in sight,” he said. “Lead time on securing components is still a struggle we are working to overcome. We are excited and prepared to usher in a new year, especially since it is our 20-year anniversary. Our shipping team is reconfiguring our warehouse to accommodate more storage space for product and components.”

Phoebe Grott, Nalpac's director of marketing and strategic partnership, says that supply chain and changing consumer demand will continue to be at the forefront of the factors influencing the adult retail industry. The best way to prepare for the anticipated challenges, she believes, is to stay educated and flexible.

“Nalpac has spent the past several years implementing strategic programs to support the needs of our customers’ businesses, such as shipping optimization, webinars and educational videos, sales team expansion, assortment diversification, and partnering with key manufacturers to deliver exclusive promotions and content,” Grott said. “Throughout Nalpac's operations and services, we strive to remain versatile and poised to address the evolving challenges and opportunities of our industry.”

Kristen Tribby, the global head of marketing and education for Fun Factory, says that she believes global supply chain issues will continue as long as the pandemic disrupts business-as-usual. “Relative to other businesses, though, we are in a comfortable position, since we manufacture and ship products from the same location — our factory in Bremen, Germany,” she said.

Blush Novelties Sales Manager Nancy Cosimini also said that having its own manufacturing facilities in China has allowed the company to monitor its process and address potential issues early on.

“We are prepared for this bumpy road to stick around for a bit into 2022,” Cosimini said. “We have been preparing with our ordering so that we can be stocked right through the new year and into the spring. The bottom line: we have been stocking up, especially in our top-selling lines, to ensure customer fulfillment.”

Several manufacturers are prepared to face supply chain issues in the new year by increasing their stock to ensure that they can maintain their fill rate.

“Nasstoys has always done smaller releases every other month throughout the year, but during COVID, we have slimmed those releases down even further,” Nasstoys sales and training representative Taylor Means said. “Focusing on stocking what we have instead of putting out new items has been key.”

Adrien Lastic’s Jackie Richerson said that, to cope with supply chain problems, the Barcelona-based manufacturer also has changed how it produces and ships its products. “We’ve shifted, this year, to a new logistics pattern to bring in the SKUs our customers want to see more of,” Richerson said.

Referring to the current state of shipping affairs as “everyone’s nightmare right now,” Exsens’ Rebecca Pinette-Dorin noted that, in addition to delays in shipping, costs are also increasing.

“We are working hard to keep our production costs low so that we will not need to increase prices just to combat rising shipping costs,” Pinette-Dorin said. “We have upped production and stock volume in both the U.S. and Europe to make sure we do not have to deal with out-of-stock situations due to longer shipping times.”

Rock Candy Toys Sales Director Tracy Leone said that her company is extending production scheduling and finding alternative sources for products if necessary.

“Getting products from overseas is hard enough and any products made locally adds to the price of the product, which ultimately affects the customers,” Leone said. “We are prepared to do whatever it takes to fulfill orders as fast as possible without compromising the integrity of the products’ quality.”

Marissa Vogel explained how Bowchair’s commitment to selling American-made goods has minimized supply chain issues for the company.

“With the exception of faux leather and one foam constituent, everything is U.S.- sourced/ manufactured,” Vogel said. “Even 80% of Bowchair hardware is made in-house from metal bar stock. There are some challenges with our ability to share exact customization options on our social media and web store. Luckily, if a client likes a certain red leather that is shown in our product photos but no longer available due to supply chain issues, we have a solution. Our design team is ridiculously knowledgeable about raw material quality, look and feel. When the supply chain says, ‘no you can’t’... we say, ‘Wait, wait, look at this comparable and quality option!’ We love finding solutions that fit our customer needs and are truly excited to spend time talking with people that are investing in their sex life.”

Marketing Moves

With the start of the new year, there is no question that life as we know it has changed forever. 2021 disrupted comfortable ways of living and doing business day to day. 2021 also showed us how well we could walk through the fire — or not.

The pleasure products industry was on cruise control pre-pandemic. Brick-and-mortar operations were well-oiled machines, manufacturers had regular travel/training schedules, and trade shows happened like clockwork every July and January. We were comfortable, so exploring options like virtual meetings with colleagues, for example, was something that many folks avoided or rejected altogether.

These days, it is difficult to find anyone without a Zoom account and working from home doesn’t have the same stigma that it did in the “before” times.

From virtual trade shows to brick-and-mortar store closures, many businesses were given no option but to sink or swim and scramble repeatedly for creative ways to pivot and stay afloat as global restrictions fluctuated.

Now, businesses are stepping into 2022 well-equipped to tackle unforeseen changes, possessing more reliable “S.O.S.” strategies to employ at a moment’s notice — one big silver lining that has resulted from the pandemic experience.

2021 introduced virtual trade shows, and while there was a lot of uncertainty about them initially, most of the industry has acclimated and perspectives regarding the necessity of in-person attendance have changed.

For small companies with limited expense resources, a virtual trade show enables more people to enjoy the benefits of business interaction without the travel costs. At the same time, the die-hard road warriors and/or their customers are eager to resume quality face-to-face time.

For Vincent Renou of Gangbangster, it is the latter.

“I had the chance to travel last year, and customers are eager to meet in-person again,” he said. “So, if we are fully authorized to travel, and there is no ‘Sigma’ or ‘Upsilon’ variant, I will do a world tour, twice.”

Marissa Vogel from Bowchair expects that a compromise may be most efficient for the industry going forward. She also highlighted the important role that hands-on experiences play for B2B and D2C customers to efficiently communicate the quality, function and value of a product in a tangible way.

“Looking towards 2022, I see there being a need for a hybrid of online and in-person connection,” she said, adding, “Bowchair is something that is so unique and striking to see in person. We’ve really missed being able to attend trade shows, visit clubs, and attend industry events. This face-to-face time is what keeps us going!”

Will Ranscombe, co-founder and managing director of Make Love Not War, shared a similar perspective on the in-person experience, specifically as it applies to the pleasure products industry.

“When it comes to sex toys, you can’t exactly try one on for size and return it if it doesn’t fit — a practice typical in the fashion industry that isn’t sustainable in the pleasure biz.”

Why consumers spend money, where they spend money, and their motivations for spending have all been altered forever. The pandemic may have revealed the weaknesses of various business models, but it also uncovered new opportunities to enhance brand messaging and communication, strengthening brand loyalty at a time when spending habits and consumer preferences are fluid.

Ranscombe is optimistic heading into the new year.

“There will always be a need to get our products into the actual hands of consumers,” he asserted. “We believe as people venture more outside in 2022, they will begin to enjoy the experience more. It is important for retailers across all industries to provide an immersive and sustainable experience.”

It is true that the way businesses present their products and connect with consumers needs to evolve moving forward. This starts with understanding who your target consumer is and prioritizing their needs to build a loyal relationship centered around trust.

“Our main target market mostly consists of millennials and Gen Z, so we’ve been working hard to develop a brand that will resonate with them,” Ranscombe shared. Outside of target market visibility, crossover marketing opportunities can bolster brand exposure to pique the interest of new consumers, with the added benefit of bridging the gap between sexual wellness and mainstream wellness.

“We plan to create events that are not in the field of sexual health and wellness, so that others can learn about our business,” said Lulu Batista of Ooh Lulu Cherry Box.

WOW Tech intends to incorporate unique and creative partnerships with retail partners. According to WOW Tech publicist Emmy Nicholson, this has proven to be a successful strategy for introducing customers to pleasure products in a new way.

“So many customers still enjoy going into the store to purchase sex toys for the experience, being able to feel the toys, and being able to have a trained individual answer their questions.”

Nicholson also believes that offering robust digital training resources for B2B customers is a vital component of successful brand communication at the retail level.

“To better serve our customers, we are continually growing our WOW Tech Academy to offer a training resource to our partners to be able to talk with customers about all of our products,” she said.

At the end of the day — and the beginning of 2022 — selecting the right avenues for your unique business will ultimately yield more effective results than trying to incorporate all of them. However, we must keep in mind that the results will be different in the future than they were a few years ago.

Whether you prefer good old-fashioned hotel “circle bar” networking, or “business casual on top, PJ pants on the bottom” digital interactions, there is no shortage of promising opportunities for company growth and success as post-pandemic evolution marches on.

Pleasure Predictions

As pleasure product manufacturers and retailers gear up for the year ahead, they’re keeping their finger on the pulse of the industry’s latest trends and sharing how they think they will continue to unfold in 2022.

In 2021, a “green” movement was prevalent among all consumer goods, with more products and packaging made from recyclable materials and the development of more reusable goods.

“I don’t think it’s a choice anymore, it’s a necessity and in years to come, all products will be expected to be eco-friendly,” said Love Not War’s Will Ranscombe. “I predict that the trend of ‘green sex’ will only continue to grow in 2022 and we at Love Not War look forward to watching that happen.”

According to Ranscombe, biodegradable materials will become more ubiquitous, recycled and recyclable materials will become more common and packaging will be rethought. He also urges manufacturers to reconsider the kinds of batteries that they use and to come up with more sustainable options, like using only one battery unit to power several toys.

“We would also love to see more products become repairable,” he said. “It’s a big issue with our industry that if a toy breaks, it’s sent straight to the dump, and we’d love to see more thought put into designs to make them repairable and recyclable.”

In 2022, Perfect Fit is investing a significant amount of money in becoming more environmentally conscientious, according to Steve Callow, the company’s CEO.

“We have analyzed the areas where we can effect change and make substantial improvements,” he said. “The most significant area is in packaging, and it is our goal to eliminate most of our clamshells by the end of 2022 and replace them with attractive poly bags, like our XPLAY Wrap Rings. We will also be proposing 99% reduction solutions for retailers who want to participate.

“Though I don’t have any kids, I know lots of people who do, and I feel it is essential to be a responsible manufacturer so they can have the future we all want them to have. Even though this may be impacting our business slightly, I will sleep at night knowing we are decreasing our use of one-time plastics and reducing waste. In many of the examples we have already converted, we see 85-95% reductions in one-time plastics!”

Perfect Fit has created a website, PFBCares.com, where the company plans to showcase its progress and environmental policy. “Retailers will also benefit from reduced packaging size, reduced shipping costs and promoting environmentally conscious manufacturers,” Callow added.

Romantic Adventures owner Tami Rose also predicts that the demand for more ecologically responsible toys and less unnecessary packaging will be on consumers’ minds.

“I think the need for elaborate packaging will diminish as we all learn to shrink our supply lines and find and make products closer to home as well,” she said.

Blush Novelties’ Nancy Cosimini said that sustainability has also been an important focus for her company recently.

“What we at Blush have been doing is, slowly but surely, we are reengineering our packaging to use less plastic wherever possible, and we are continuously searching for and developing plastic alternatives,” she said. “One of our most important initiatives is developing solutions to make silicone more affordable since silicone is the best material to use for many reasons. From a sustainability perspective, if the consumer invests more in a product that holds up better than other materials, they will keep it longer, resulting in less throw-away!”

Adrien Lastic’s Jackie Richerson said that she also believes that environmentally friendly products are going to be on the forefront of the pleasure products industry. “That’s why we’re proud that our dildos are 60% natural and 100% biodegradable,” she said.

Richerson also promised powerful, techy pleasure products on the horizon for the new year.

“We’ve seen the demand for app-controlled products skyrocket,” she said. “Adrien Lastic understood the assignment and we added the Palpitation and the Inspiration for our line in 2021. Following that trend, we will be releasing several new products in 2022 including several app-controlled toys.”

Another prediction for the new year is the anticipated popularity of penis-focused pleasure products. WOW Tech’s Emmy Nicholson noted an important feature of the company’s signature Arcwave stroker’s Clean Tech Silicone, which will be expanded into more product offerings.

“Clean Tech Silicone is hypoallergenic and resistant to UV light, making it more durable and hygienic than conventional materials on the market,” Nicholson said. “This means that Arcwave products are much easier to clean and more hygienic.”

Bucking Bull Intimates owner Jim Williams also predicts growing demand for realistic penis stimulation

“We see the industry changing at a rapid pace; we feel that products such as strokers and masturbators will evolve to give the user a more realistic feel when in use,” he said. Fun Factory’s Kristen Tribby notes that over the past year, penis toys and all things pegging have sold extremely well, and she expects that trend to continue into 2022, along with the demand for eco-friendly products.

“Consumers also are increasingly concerned with environmental and social issues, so messaging our body-safe materials, ethical manufacturing and long product life cycle will continue to be important,” she said. “Innovations are always on the horizon for us! In 2022, we’re planning on releasing bestin- class new toys.”

Similarly, Clement from Tantaly says that in 2022, torso sex dolls will offer more features like sucking, vibration and automatic cleaning.

“We will keep our constant attention on this,” Clement said. “At the same time, with the arrival of metaspace, customers have more intense demand for the immersive experience. Therefore, we think the combination of VR and products is the key to encourage more exploration.”

COTR Inc. Sales Director Kimberly Scott Faubel shared her thoughts on the overall evolution of the pleasure biz.

“We are seeing pleasure products represented in TV shows, movies, podcasts, so we anticipate our demographics to broaden significantly as we reach new people who are learning about sex toys for what might be the first time,” she said. “Materials like glass and stainless steel are well known to those of us ‘in the biz’ as long-lasting and multi-beneficial, so we can expect materials like this to be more accepted and demanded by our new consumers. I also think we’ll see more items that are doing away with disposable batteries and offering rechargeable alternatives to some classic accessories.”

Viben Toys’ Kyle Tutino says that toys offering all the bells and whistles at affordable price points are the items destined for success in 2022.

“Viben products include a variety of features like thumping stimulation, suction, the ‘come hither’ motion, roller ball stimulation, thrusting and more in order to accommodate this need,” she said. “All of the Viben items are made with body-safe silicone as we are seeing this is a material in high demand for our industry.”

Suction and other air technology toys have seen incredible popularity in recent years. Nasstoys’ Taylor Means says that she foresees this category will continue to grow in 2022.

“Nasstoys Infinitt suction massagers that we released over three years ago are still having tremendous success, and I would be remiss not to mention ‘Blossom,’ our double-sided, clitoral teasing, suction and flicking tongue vibe,” she said. “I think this is due to the rise of social media influence in the adult industry. Trends are being driven by viral sensations and shifting the main demographic greatly toward a younger, more educated consumer base.”

With Nalpac having just capped its 50th year in business, Phoebe Grott says that there are mainstay tried-and-true products that will continue to be bestsellers because of their universal appeal.

“As of late, we've seen massive growth in app-connected toys, as well as products with ultra-realistic designs, and our most successful new items are those that incorporate innovations that make their use almost seamless so that users can focus on pleasure above all else,” she said.

Forecasting the future in an unpredictable time like this is tricky. However, the pandemic has affirmed that for both old and new customers, the adult retail industry’s work is relevant during times of crisis. If we can count on anything in 2022, it is that consumers are continuing to feel more and more open-minded when it comes to sexual wellness. And that feels good.

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