Is mainstream retail the new go-to place for adult toys?

Discussion
Source: bloomingdales.com
Mar 03, 2022

Sephora recently began selling vibrators and lubricants online, following similar moves last year by Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Saks.com as part of an emerging “sexual wellness” trend.

Articles began appearing about a decade ago about sex toys finding their way to the online sites of Walmart and drug chains as the Fifty Shades of Grey book series was topping best-seller lists worldwide. 

Sleekly designed and packaged intimacy items have also been drawing attention over the last decade with Maude, Tenga, Dame and Crave among the recent crop of trendy brands in the space. Brookstone was among the first retailers to carry Lelo in 2012.

With the pandemic, however, heightened attention has been given to mental wellness, and that has extended to sexual wellness, prompting department stores to position such items alongside other beauty and self-care offerings.

“People are spending more time, energy and disposable income on their own wellness, so it was natural that this expanded to sexual wellness,” Elizabeth Miller, VP in charge of cosmetics at Bloomingdale’s, told the New York Times. “It’s evolved so much from what it used to be maybe 10 or 15 years ago to be much more approachable.”

Gwyneth Paltrow and her wellness company, Goop, have also been credited with reducing the social stigma around sex toys. 

Brands have updated their messaging and packaging to position such adult-oriented products around health and wellness. Email pitches frame such categories as “intimate care” or “sexual wellness,” and the items are often referred to as “pleasure products” or “sexual wellness tools.”

So far, the upscale department stores and Sephora are only offering sexual wellness products online. Purchasing such items can be intimidating and many consumers prefer a discreet online purchase. Urban Outfitters and Madewell are also only selling intimacy products online. 

Walmart began selling the PlusOne premium sex toy range inside stores in 2018, and intimacy products can be found inside stores at Target, CVS, Walgreens and similar chains. Last year, Nordstrom sold intimacy products, along with lingerie, loungewear and body care, at 10 stores as part of a “Self Love” pop-up

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Has the sexual wellness trend opened up a big opportunity for department stores and beauty chains as well as a bigger one for mass and drug store chains? Is there still a stigma to selling such items for mainstream chains?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I could see this as a key category online, but on the shelf? Not so much."
"As always, it’s younger consumers and their welcoming, open-minded attitudes that shatter retail’s status quo."
"Experienced visual merchandisers can go a long way toward minimizing the stigma and helping more consumers embrace the category."

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7 Comments on "Is mainstream retail the new go-to place for adult toys?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Sexual wellness has become a far larger market over the past 10 years and it is now, broadly, seen as being more acceptable and mainstream. As such, it is not surprising to see retailers looking to cash in. That said, retailers do need to make an effort not to make the category look seedy. I was in CVS this past weekend and noticed some sexual wellness products – buried away on a dingy shelf at the back of the store. It really didn’t do the category justice!

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

This category is becoming more and more visible as the article notes. I think there is still a level of stigma associated with these products. I wouldn’t expect to find customers lingering in front of a display at Target, reading boxes and asking staff which one of these items they would recommend. That said, I do think the items will sell at mass. I doubt they will be a significant category in the future. I would echo Neil’s comments that stores who do decide to have these items need to make sure they’re presented in a matter-of-fact way. Target has included them in the Family Planning assortment. Makes perfect sense to me in that product mix.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Shades of Goop! I could see this as a key category online, but on the shelf? Not so much.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Wellness in all forms is good business, and I see no reason why mainstream retail shouldn’t invest in the sexual wellness category inside their stores. Experienced visual merchandisers can go a long way toward minimizing the stigma and helping more consumers embrace the category.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes. Retail has certainly gotten saucier. (I nearly crashed my car due to a titillating billboard on the highway. Well played, PinkCherry.)

From holistic health to lockdown loneliness, retailers see new opportunities to make big bucks in the boudoir.

As always, it’s younger consumers and their welcoming, open-minded attitudes that shatter retail’s status quo. Mainstream retailers’ assortments are simply catching up to consumers’ needs.

George Anderson
Staff

Puritan-like impulses remain strong in the U.S. so I wouldn’t be looking for large end-cap displays at Target or Walmart anytime soon. My guess is that online will be the major vehicle for sexual wellness toys for some time to come if not forever.

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
6 months 25 days ago

Urban Outfitters also. I think overall mental and sexual health has been destigmatized dramatically. Younger generations have been championing this, however it was certainly escalated in the pandemic. As mainstream chains seek to attract the customer of tomorrow, not just today, they’ll have to embrace it. Even the catalog line Dr. Leonard’s which markets mainly medical equipment to senior citizens, has an entire section dedicated to sex toys.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I could see this as a key category online, but on the shelf? Not so much."
"As always, it’s younger consumers and their welcoming, open-minded attitudes that shatter retail’s status quo."
"Experienced visual merchandisers can go a long way toward minimizing the stigma and helping more consumers embrace the category."

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