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05/10/2021

Good vibrations: Retailers see success embracing new areas of sexual wellness

As consumers demand a wider selection of sexual wellness items in stores, retailers are building out their assortments to include standard fare like condoms and lubricants, as well as a growing selection of sex toys.

How can retailers tell that carrying sexual wellness products have been accepted by most of their consumers?

The answer, of course, is that shoppers are no longer talking about whether the category is making an impression on them during their shopping experience, but rather they are more concerned that the products do the job they are intended to do.

In fact, in a quite unscientific survey of consumers at several New York-area mass retailers, no shoppers voiced any concern about having any type of sexual wellness products available on store shelves. However, a number questioned the quality of the products available and asked which ones did the best job.

A large percentage of consumers are making it perfectly clear that they want a selection of sexual wellness items, ranging from the traditional items like condoms and lubricants to more risqué sex toys at the stores they most frequent. That trend is great news for a growing number of suppliers trying to offer such merchandise through traditional mass retail outlets.

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“We have shattered the glass ceiling,” said Stephanie Trachtenberg, director of marketing and public relations at New York-based Satisfyer. “The industry has created a situation where consumers no longer are afraid to buy these products at retail stores. Sexual wellness products are now part of the mainstream and, as the last year has shown, have played a big role in providing relief for many consumers who are really trying to get in touch with their bodies.”

While sales in the category have grown at a modest rate, many suppliers and retailers said that segment has added a bit of luster and intrigue to their shelves, getting consumers to be more open about their personal needs and desires. The result, some said, is a willingness among shoppers to purchase these types of items in the open, as opposed to relying on mail order or digital to acquire these items.

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“The year-ending 2020 Nielsen data revealed that the overall category was flat, but that performance varied widely by each individual retailer,” said Michael Trigg, CEO of Trigg Labs, which manufactures a wide range of personal lubricants. “The more progressive merchants diversified their assortment to include innovative personal lubricants that were silicone based, flavored or that provided an added sensation. Those who added variety saw growing sales and benefitted at the expense of their competitors, which tried to live the past by offering only basic water-based products.”

Other suppliers agreed that the time is right for retailers to get more involved with the category. “People are getting more comfortable with their bodies and are more willing to go to stores and buy these items,” said Toni Day, a marketing specialist for Newton, Mass.-based Clio, which has placed a huge emphasis on its packaging and the role it plays in making consumers feel good about buying sexual wellness devices in stores.

“I think suppliers have helped, too. For example, we have created packaging that is more discreet than in the past, which makes it easier for the consumer to purchase and the retailer to display on store shelves,” Day said. “We are also using the packaging to explain to consumers about the health benefits of our products, as well as the pleasure aspects of them. We want the user to feel comfortable.”

Trigg also said that with COVID-19 bringing increased online competition, it is critical that store planograms include the actual market leaders in each product niche and not just similar products from older brands. “With an intimate product like personal lubricant, consumers have proven that they will make the effort required to find and purchase their preferred product,” he said. “Evidence of consumer loyalty is the market for silicone-based lubricants. Wet Platinum introduced the industry to the health and performance benefits of a pure silicone personal lubricant over a decade ago.”

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Trachtenberg said that the onus really is on the retailer to react to the category. Noting that mass retailers have long made a big point of providing their shoppers with the best health-and-wellness products available, she said that offering the best items in the sexual wellness category can only help also develop that reputation. “Why not carry these products?” she asked. “Consumers want them and they work.”

Now, officials at all these companies are turning up the heat on retailers. With the blessing of many consumers, especially women, they want retailers to stock a larger assortment of sexual wellness items across the entire spectrum of the category. And, they think retailers should start promoting the items a lot more too, as well as looking for hot new items.

Even more traditional sexual wellness segments, such as condoms, are putting pressure on retailers to get more serious with their brands. Ken DeBaene, vice president of sales for the Americas at Lifestyles, a leading manufacturer of condoms and other items in the category, said education is vital to the success of his category.

“There is opportunity to improve the experience at shelf while also understanding that well over half of consumers research products online before purchasing,” he said. “Linking the online experience and associated education with the retail experience is a good start. Beyond that, recognizing that the shopper is showing up with different emotional needs, not just functional needs while being able to help them more easily find the fit for that need. Those needs absolutely extend beyond the condom sector, and we at Lifestyles pride ourselves on providing our customers with the resources they need for every facet of the intimate experience, from devices to personal lubricants and beyond.”

Trigg said that his company spends a lot of time on research and development to ensure they offer the best products. “After observing a consumer preference shift towards lubricants, which provide sensations and that blend together water and silicone, Trigg Labs recently launched Wet Cool Tingle and Wet Gold Hybrid,” he said. “These two products represent a huge leap forward from the outdated sticky basic water-based lubes of the past by blending in silky silicone while avoiding glycerin and all parabens. Both formulas are safe with condoms and adult wellness devices.  Consumers love their superior feel and longevity.”

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