Selling past the taboo: The sexual wellness set gets an upgrade

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Selling past the taboo: The sexual wellness set gets an upgrade

By Seth Mendelson - 03/23/2020

Sex sells. Well, at least that is what more and more retailers and suppliers are hoping. 

As decades-long taboos finally start to subside across the country, more mass merchants are willing to stock sexual wellness items, including devices and toys that just a few years ago would never find their way onto retail shelves. Yes, that means that retailers are stocking a greater variety of condoms and placing the items on open shelves so consumers do not have to ask a clerk or pharmacist for the items. 

It also means that retailers are venturing into territory that many thought they would never traverse, even just a few years ago. They are stocking — on open shelves — such products as vibrators, messagers and other devices. They also are being more brash — some said realistic — about the marketing of condoms and lubricants, and even promoting the sex toys with in-store signage. Most consumers, many industry officials said, are not complaining. 

Why not? “Because consumer sentiment quickly has changed over the last few years and more shoppers — especially women — want easy access to buying these items,” said a senior executive at a Southeastern supermarket chain. “We started stocking these items and placing them in open areas about two years ago, and we have received nearly no complaints, even in the more rural and conservative areas of our marketing territory. Plus, it means more sales and profits for us.”

Unfortunately, it is not that easy for mass retailers to find a spot in the sexual wellness marketplace. As demand for some of these products soar, more shoppers are turning to the Internet to purchase them, seeking anonymity and the advantage of having these products arrive in unmarked packages, not to mention competitive prices and an extremely broad selection of merchandise. 

"Consumer sentiment quickly has changed over the last few years and more shoppers — especially women — want easy access to buying these items."
A senior supermarket executive

So how do traditional retailers hold on to their share of the market while trying to gain more traction in the new, more risqué, ends of the segment? 

Some said it is as simple as stocking the right items at the right price points, and in the right locations. Stephanie Trachtenberg, head of marketing at Newton, Mass.-based Clio, said her company’s line of sexual wellness products, all introduced over the last year or so, is booming because of the assortment and affordable price points — not to mention the success in getting retailers to carry them. 

“Consumers need to be served the right products,” Trachtenberg said, noting that during anxious times, consumers are looking for ways to reduce stress. “The taboo of being forced to go to secret stores to buy these items is over. Now, consumers can go to many of their favorite drug stores to purchase these items, and the list is growing all the time. Our products are palatable and approachable. And, they are priced correctly to get consumers to purchase them.”

Clio offers six devices, plus a line of lubricants and toy cleaning wipes. Price points range between $10 and about $35, Trachtenberg said, noting that similar items sold at other retailers can be double or triple the price points. 

“We have to encourage retailers to create a sexual wellness department, so that consumers will know where to find these items when they are looking for them,” she said. “These shoppers have a lot more spending power these days. It is in the interest of these retailers to create a sexual wellness section that will show these shoppers that they want to be involved in the category.”

Retailers may also want to take a closer look at the lubricant market, a segment that most of the major players in the industry — including LifeStyle brands and Trojan — have gotten involved in, and a segment that most think has a big future ahead of it. 

“The lubricant market is growing in retail,” said Michael Trigg, founder and CEO of Trigg Laboratories. “As society is changing, sexual health and wellness products are becoming more mainstream. Consumers also love something new, fresh and fun.”  

Trigg also said the market has seen an increase in the more ingredient-conscious consumer. “People, especially women, are paying more attention to the ingredients in lube and thinking about how they will affect their bodies,” he said. “Cruelty-free, paraben-free and organic products have become more important to consumers. Therefore, we focus on providing these elements in wet products.”

Yet, retailers need to help here as well. Trigg said that although sexual health-and-wellness products are becoming more widely accepted, some people may still be hesitant to ask questions about the product. “It’s important to have clear signage and any information up and/or available,” he said. “Some retailers and pharmacies have also found success adding our products to their female hygiene section.”

Trigg said that it is always important for suppliers to be innovating and updating when it comes to their products. Trigg said the company is releasing several new and updated products this year, including the Wet Gold Hybrid and Wet Cool Tingle. 

“Our Gold Hybrid is a luxury silicone- and water-based blended formula,” he said. “Fans of our Wet Platinum product who are interested in taking advantage of the easy cleanup of a water-based lubricant will love this combination product. With our Wet Cool Tingle arousing lubricant, we are addressing a desire that women have of wanting a lubricant to add more sensation during use. This product is sure to heighten pleasure and intimacy for all who use it. “

While sexual wellness devices and associated products are gaining more acceptance with retailers and consumers, the more traditional products in this category — mostly condoms — have been struggling at retail. Industry officials said that a combination of increased sales through the Internet and more consumers deciding not to use them for one reason or another is playing havoc on the segment. 

According to Carol Carrozza, marketing manager at Florham Park, N.J.-based Okamoto USA, younger consumers — Generation Z and millennials in particular — are having less sex or are having sex with fewer partners. 

“In addition, there is a trend where emergency contraception is skyrocketing, and that shows that these people are not using condoms,” she said. “That is a scary thought because it does not address the need to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and the role condoms can play in preventing them.”

Okamoto is combating the consumers’ decision not to use condoms by introducing Wink to the marketplace. The product, which Carrozza said is the thinnest condom available and it features discreet, upscale packaging. “This product is designed to restore sensitivity to the condom category,” she said. “It makes us different than most other products in the marketplace, and it gets more people to use condoms again.”

Other players in the market also are getting much more aggressive with product innovation and marketing. Category leader Trojan, owned by Church & Dwight, is pushing various condoms that focus on offering a better experience for the user. The company is offering its Ultra Ribbed, BareSkin and Nirvana products in upscale packaging to gain consumer awareness. Not to be outdone, LifeStyles Healthcare has introduced Zero, a condom that company officials said is 52% thinner than its other products and features its patented Ultraglide lubricant. 

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