TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Selling Sex Toys: A Recession-Proof Industry
- Selling Adult Toys Online
- How to Start a Sex Toy Business
- Building a Brand
- Types of Sex Toys to Sell Online
- Product Sourcing
- How to Build a Website for Your Adult Sex Toy Business
- How to Market Your Sex Toy Business
- Privacy and Safety for your Customers
- Secure High-Risk Adult Merchant Account
As a result of modern society’s sexual liberation, sex toys are much less taboo. With the veil of illicitness lifted, selling sex toys has become a more mainstream and extremely profitable business. In fact, the global sex toy market is predicted to see nine percent growth between 2019 and 2026, from being valued at 28 million dollars to 52 million dollars. If starting a sex toy business due to the market growth, or for any other reason, interests you, below is a comprehensive overview of how to sell the most intimate of products.
Selling Sex Toys: A Recession-Proof Industry
When people have more money in their pocket, they spend it (on sex toys). When people don’t have the money to go out, they stay home (and use their sex toys). While monetization in some aspects of the adult industry has started to decline, such as porn, businesses selling toys have seen steady growth. This trend is due to increased commercialization, changing perception, and availability to purchase items both in-store and online.
Looking at statistics per state in the U.S., Vermont comes in first place with the number of bedroom items per person being purchased online. The state buys 77.3 percent over the national average. Interestingly enough, the type of items purchased greatly range according to location as well. In the U.S., the most common item bought is a dildo; whereas in the other top-ranking countries, like the U.K., Germany, and Australia, vibrators are most common. Differentiating itself from other countries, the U.S. has penis sleeves and strap-ons as some of its most popular items.
When compared to other adult items, toys and novelty items made up at least 36 percent of purchases. This category falls right behind lingerie with 37 percent, and in front of essentials, such as lubricants and condoms, taking up 10 percent. Niche-oriented products are gaining in popularity and are carving out a place of their own. Along with them, products made especially for non-cisgender and non-binary individuals are becoming more common. A growing acceptance of gender and lifestyle differences in everyday life has allowed this advancement in the bedroom as well.
With all of this growth, people are going to expect certain standards to be met, like any other industry: better prices, higher quality, and more convenience.
Selling Adult Toys Online
If you’re wondering whether to open a retail store or not, understand that no brick-and-mortar store is necessary. You can begin selling adult toys online. By eliminating rent for a commercial space, you significantly reduce startup costs. Additionally, online stores may cater to customers who may be too shy to shop for these products in person.
Another benefit of selling adult toys online is that it circumvents issues you could face if your storefront is deemed unavailable to customers. This could be due to inclement weather, events such as parades or rallies, or health emergencies. Adam and Eve, one of the most well-known, established retailers of sex toys, saw a 30 percent increase in their online sales in March and April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Is it legal to sell sex toys online?
Generally, yes, it’s legal to sell sex toys online.
A series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s formally legalized sex shops. While the federal government doesn’t have the power to regulate the sale of sex toys, state and local governments may regulate and even ban the sale of these products. Alabama, for example, passed the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1998, which criminalized the sale of sex toys. Under this law, conviction requires you to register as a sex offender. However, these products are often sold in the state under the guise of them being a novelty or educational item. Other states, including Texas and Georgia, have various laws prohibiting the sale of “obscene” devices. That said, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the state and local laws under which you’re running your business.
Below is a list of various elements that must comply with the legal regulations of selling adult toys.
The packaging of an adult toy includes components such as how visible the product itself is, the accompanying imagery, and the descriptive wording. Even in states with no laws against the sale of adult products, there may be regulations regarding the public display of these products. Thus, these products require the proper packaging to comply with said regulations.
In regards to selling sex toys online, it’s common practice that the shipping packaging is discreet and inconspicuous. What draws many people towards shopping for their sex toys online is its privacy. If shipping packaging announces the contents to delivery workers and neighbors, you’ll fail in providing the expected level of privacy. This may cost you a repeat customer.
Some states prohibit marketing sex toys through email or internet media. It’s best to educate yourself on the state and local regulations applicable to your business. The regulations governing email marketing may restrict the age of the receipt, options for opt-out, and many more elements such as the header and/or images used.
Images and videos
If you plan to use images or videos in the marketing of your sex toy business, you should familiarize yourself with laws pertaining to such. To utilize a stock image, you must obtain proper authorization. On the other hand, if you’re creating images and/or videos, you may want to consider following the same guidelines for business in the adult industry, such as pornography or phone sex. These guidelines require you to obtain a government-issued photo ID verifying the age of anyone you employ in the adult industry. You must record and store the verification. In the case of an audit by law enforcement, you may need to produce said verification.
A product’s name could potentially jeopardize its legality. For this reason, many merchants name vibrator products “massager” as opposed to “vibrator.” This is a method by which merchants may sell vibrators in locations where the sale of such is banned. If you’re planning on naming a product such as a vibrator a “massager,” it’s best to consult a legal expert. They can guide you on how to best comply with legal guidelines. It’s also important to keep in mind that customers want clear descriptions of what they’re considering purchasing. Manipulating product names and/or descriptions, even to comply with legal restrictions, may rub customers the wrong way.
Design and materials
All adult toys must be made of materials and in designs that meet regulation standards. Given that the nature of these products is that they come in close proximity to or penetrate the body, following safety standards is extremely important. Disregarding these standards may put your customers at great risk of exposure to potentially dangerous materials and/or harm.
Recently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) introduced safety standards for sex toys. ISO 3533 dictates standards for “products in direct contact with the genitalia, the anus, or both.” This marked a shift, as sex toys had previously been largely unregulated. The shift towards regulation highlights the growing popularity, booming market, and dwindling stigma of sex toys.
This cursory overview of the laws surrounding product packaging, marketing, images and videos, product naming, and design and materials is only intended as informational. If you’re interested in how to sell sex toys in a manner that complies with laws, it’s best to seek counsel from a law expert.
How to Start a Sex Toy Business
Due to the popularity of the Fifty Shades trilogy, sex toys mentioned in the books saw a sales increase of 400 percent. In the decade following this phenomenon, these products have become so popular that a recent survey found 65 percent of female consumers own a sex toy. And this boom is unlikely to taper off any time soon with the growing interest in sexual wellness and rise in sextech start-ups.
If these factors, or any others, have you considering launching your own sex toy business, below is a guide touching on the basic elements you’ll have to consider to have success.
Building a Brand
Branding an adult toy business isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. The market caters to customers shopping for products intended to be enjoyed with others, as well as those shopping for products intended for solo enjoyment. Even the “solo” shoppers can fall into different categories, like those purely seeking please, those exploring their limitations, and those healing from traumatic experiences. That said, there are many different potential customer profiles that your branding can seek to target.
Current conversations about sexuality tend to focus on sexual wellness and self-care. There’s also a feminist thread in conversations discussing sexuality from an equality stance. For example, the term “orgasm gap” was coined to describe the disparity between the sexes in orgasms experienced. You might consider these trends when brainstorming your business branding. However, as generations continue to redefine what sex means to them, the branding options continue to change. With the rise in sextech start-ups, conversations may shift to focus on forward-thinking, tech-savvy solutions to pleasure.
Types of Sex Toys to Sell Online
The sex toys you can sell online typically fall into one of two categories.
- Pleasure Point Stimulation – This category includes vibrators, pulsators, dildos, butt plugs, anal beads, penis rings, various massagers, and other products intended for penetration and/or genital stimulation.
- Experience Enhancement – This category includes costumes, clamps, gags, handcuffs, paddles, ticklers, and other products not directly stimulating the body.
Also, you can sell a wide range of accessories alongside sex toys. This includes lubrication, massage oils, condoms, and toy cleaners.
Today, businesses selling goods to their customers have many choices in product sourcing, including manufacturing, outsourced manufacturing, dropshipping, and resale. Below explores the benefits and drawbacks of these options in regards to the sex toy market.
Modern manufacturing can be hands-on or outsourced.
In the hands-on approach to manufacturing, you or your employees create the goods in a facility. In recent years, manufacturing sex toys hands-on has become an even more viable option due to 3D printing. This approach gives you maximum quality control but also demands much time and effort.
Outsourcing manufacturing is the process of working with manufacturers who bring your creation to life. A drawback is less control over the quality of each product than you’d have with a hands-on approach to manufacturing. That said, it’s important to verify that your manufacture is following safety standards and regulations.
Whichever mode of manufacturing you chose has the upside of providing you with unique products that no other merchant sells. Creating and manufacturing your own sex toys also gives you the opportunity to further establish your brand through the design. However, this is a costly production sourcing option that, on top of the manufacturing demands, requires storage.
Dropshipping is a business method in which you don’t stock products yourself, thus alleviating you from the burden of inventory space. Instead, your dropshipping supplier ships the product directly to the consumer. Starting a dropshipping business is especially beneficial to those looking to start selling unique sex toys online with low start-up costs. Additionally, you won’t have to expend time or other resources on the manufacturing, packaging, or shipping of the product. However, dropshipping offers you much less quality control than manufacturing does, as it’ll be your supplier who’ll be handling the product throughout the transaction with the customer. Another risk of running a dropshipping business is that it’s considered high-risk by banks, which may result in higher fees and/or difficultly obtaining a merchant account.
The reselling method is one in which you don’t create your own product, but rather you source and resell existing products. If you’re considering resale, you can buy sex toys wholesale, which you then sell to your consumers. You can also utilize a manufacturer’s white label or private label.
Resale is the most hands-off approach in manufacturing. You don’t even have to create products. Instead, you sell preexisting products that you’ve sourced. The major drawback to this method is that you aren’t entering the market with a good that consumers cannot get elsewhere.
How to Build a Website for Your Adult Sex Toy Business
Today, you can build a website and sell sex toys from the comfort of your home. However, there are a few real-world tasks you must check off alongside the launch of your website. You’ll want to register your business with the proper federal, state, and local entities, as well as register for state taxes. There’s also a long list of applications you’ll need to complete, including those for an EIN, business license, and necessary permits.
As for launching the website, the first step is registering a domain name. You might consider doing this in tandem with some of the tasks listed above to ensure your domain name and official business name match.
After registering a domain name, you’ll design the website. The website’s design should optimize conversion rates, with the ultimate goal of generating sales. If you’re unfamiliar with website design, you can outsource this step.
Finally, to execute online sales, you need to be able to accept payments online with the aid of payment processing technology.
How to Market Your Sex Toy Business
Selling sex toys can be difficult, in part, because it’s difficult to market sex toys. Below lists the marketing options for the adult toy market, exploring the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Today, many businesses’ preferred means of marketing is social media. This popularity is because it’s a tool through which businesses can market while simultaneously building community. However, every social media platform has its own policies with which you must be in accordance. If you fail to adhere to a platform’s policies, your post can be taken down, your account suspended, or you can be banned from the platform. Social media platforms are a fantastic means of community building, but it’s important to collect followers’ email addresses so that you’ll have a means of communication outside of social media platforms. This ensures communication can continue even in the case of a deplatforming.
There are also workarounds to social media guidelines. Some adult businesses opt for sharing links to media such as interviews, articles, or podcasts, the material of which may violate social media guidelines, but the linking to such doesn’t.
In the world of social media marketing, many businesses have embraced influencer marketing. In this form of marketing, you enter a contract with an influencer. This contact dictates the influencer markets your product to their following in exchange for monetary compensation. Factors determining the influencer’s compensation include their follower count, whether the post is permanent or disappears within a timeframe, and the number of posts.
This extremely targeted marketing helps you reach a very specific potential customer, while also defining your brand through its relation to the influencer’s brand. For this reason, you should properly vet influencers before entering a business relationship with them, as their previous or future tarnished reputation can reflect poorly on your business.
While social media platforms have guidelines that you must follow lest you face deplatforming, email marketing is more flexible, more private, and more direct. But because of the private and direct nature of email marketing, it’s best to not spam inboxes. Instead, save email marketing for when there are updates on the company, new products, sales, or discounts for subscribers.
You can also utilize email marketing in a way that’s more akin to newsletters. In this case, focusing on sex education, sex toy tips, or wellness guides is a way to establish your brand, market to the customers, and build community.
Pay-per-click (PPC) is a term referring to a popular marketing method. In PPC marketing, you only pay an advertiser when someone clicks the advertisement. This is most commonly executed on search engines, like Google or Bing.
Search engines, like social media platforms, have their own content policies. However, search engines tend to be more lenient than social media platforms about sex toys. If you’re considering this as a viable marketing route, it’s important to read through the policies for whatever search engine you plan to use. Bing, for example, specifically cites violent or torture-related content as being in violation of their policies. This means marketing BDSM toys may violate Bing’s policies.
Affiliate marketing is an excellent option for marketing and branding. In employing affiliate marketing, you partner with another entity, be it an influencer, organization, or business. Then, that entity advertises your product with a link recording any successful sale occurring as a direct result of the entity’s promotion. You’d then compensate the entity a predetermined rate for each sale.
Through this marketing route, you can further establish your brand through its relationship with other brands.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the term for the process of improving your website’s rank in search engine results. The goal is that your website appears as close to the top results in search engines as possible. In terms of search engine results, “sex toys” is a very general keyword already dominated by established brands. Instead, targeting your keywords to be more specific to your brand and products can result in improved search engine rankings.
92 percent of people say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family over any other type of advertising. For this reason, referral marketing remains an extremely effective form of marketing.
Referral advertising is more organic in that it relies on a customer’s outstanding experience prompting them to rave to family and friends. However, there are ways businesses can push customers to refer their social circle to your sex toy business. One such means is to reward customers with discounts or merchandise for each referral.
Media buys on adult forums
A media buy refers to the purchasing of advertising from a media company like a newspaper, magazine, blog, website, or television network. There’s the big fish, like a commercial during the Super Bowl, the cost of which is estimated to be one million dollars for five seconds. Instead, smaller, more targeted buys will be in your business’ price range and reach a more specific audience. In particular, adult forums are an excellent place to purchase media buys.
Privacy and Safety for your Customers
Some customers specifically buy sex toys online, as opposed to at brick-and-mortar shops, because it offers additional privacy. For this reason, most online sex toy retailers ship their products in nondescript, traditional shipping boxes. Some retailers even opt to ensure their brand name doesn’t appear on the shipping box or credit card statements whatsoever.
This concern for privacy can extend to back-end operations. In particular, you should disclose if and how you’re sharing customer data with third parties. Furthermore, granting customers requests that their data be deleted is a practice many sex toy merchants follow. Because of the intimate nature of your product, it’s especially important to ensure safe online shopping for your current and potential customers.
The ensuring of customers’ safety while using your products begins during the production phase, as it’s imperative your manufacturer follow safety regulations. The product should be packaged with proper directions to ensure the safe product is used in a safe manner. Furthermore, your website can include disclaimers, FAQs, and instructional videos to educate customers about how to use your products safely and effectively.
Secure High-Risk Adult Merchant Account
Because the adult industry is more vulnerable to fraud and chargebacks, it’s considered high-risk by banks and payment processing companies. This can make obtaining merchant services a frustrating process, from dealing with unnecessary fees to being denied service altogether. To process credit cards and online transactions so you can be properly compensated for providing your sex toy products, you’ll need to find a payment processor that supports selling adult products and services.
- The New York Times: Sellers of Sex Toys Capitalized on All That Alone Time
- Statista: Size of the sex toy market worldwide from 2019 to 2026
- Thrive Global: How Millennials are Becoming Millionaires by Starting a Sex Toy Business
- ISO: ISO 3533:2021
- Daily Mail: Fifty Shades effect explodes as sales of sex toys used in EL James’ racy trilogy soar by 400%
- Nielsen: Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages
- The Atlantic: The Hidden Economics of Porn
- Jon Millward: What One Million Sex Toy Sales Reveal About Our Erotic Tastes, Kinks, and Desires