This year's virtual version of the Adult Novelty Manufacturers' Expo (ANME) taught us a lot about the booming sex toy industry - and whether the boom might continue in 2021.
This year, Kinkly made its usual rounds at ANME/XBIZ, a trade show dedicated to - you guessed it - sex toys and other pleasure products. Although this year's expo was held virtually as a result of restrictions around COVID-19, we still got to speak to many manufacturers and retailers. We got product demos galore, got to chat with company reps right in their home offices and living rooms, and we learned that despite everything that's going on in the world right now, sex toys are selling better than ever.
According to an online survey of 2,040 U.S. adults in September 2020 conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Satisfyer, 30% of all adults say they are more willing than ever to use a pleasure device because of the COVID-19 pandemic; 48% of those who already own a sex toy say they've purchased another since the pandemic began.
While we had the ear of so many people in the industry, we wanted to hear more about how the pandemic had impacted them and their business. So, we asked how business was going and what they thought it might look once the pandemic is (finally!) behind us.
Read: 4 Things You Learn When You Attend a Sex Toy Conference
In the Sex Toy Industry, Business Has Been Good - Very Good
We asked ANME/XBIZ attendees how business had been during the pandemic. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. Although store closures, safety concerns and supply-chain issues were all hurdles many companies had to deal with, most said business was booming as people turned to masturbation and sex as forms of self care (and entertainment!) Here's what ANME/XBIZ attendees had to say about how business was in 2020.
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The first few weeks were difficult, since brick-and-mortar stores closed and our team had to adjust to remote work. After that, business picked up … we quickly recouped our lost revenue and since then, we’ve seen unprecedented growth. - Kristen Tribby, Head of Global Marketing, Fun Factory
“We’re seeing a lot of first time users, which is pretty exciting. We’re hoping this trend continues now that they’ve opened that door to exploring and they’re willing to try more things. ” -Nichole Grossman, Director of Marketing at CalExotics
“Our sales are up 35-37%. We were lucky we got all of our packaging in before COVID hit so we had what we needed to get through this.” - Patrice F., Sales & Educator at Sensuva
“We saw a 60% rise in sales- and a rise in sales of over 400% on our own website.” - Rebecca Pinette-Dorin, North American Sales Manager, Exsens
“ We have a lot of new online customers, and business went through the roof. Unfortunately, a lot of respected customers with brick-and-mortar stores are having a hard time because of the lockdowns. Let’s hope they can return to normal business soon.” - Ard van den Brandhof, Senior Buyer, Shots
“Business has been very strong since the pandemic began. Our sales are up 40% year over year.” - Tom Nardone, President, PriveCo, which runs Vibrators.com
“The sexual wellness devices category as a whole was strong going into the Covid-19 crisis. Then, throughout much of the pandemic, device sales climbed even further … our items’ sales spiked as much as 121 percent in comparison to January and February of 2020, before the stay-at-home orders started to go into effect.” - Elisa McDermott, Vice President of Sales, Clio Designs, the makers of plusOne
“The growth was tremendous in terms of sales and we experienced a different type of shopper than before. The new shopper was more inquisitive, spending more time on our site exploring products as well as information on the company. I can only assume that with the retailers being closed, shoppers didn’t have the retailers' guidance to answer questions or to help them select the right product for their needs.” - Patrick Lyons, Chief Strategy Officer at Nu Sensuelle
"At the beginning of the pandemic there was great uncertainty and fear about the business and whether or not we could survive. As a consulting firm we help partners create their own toy brands, but when the pandemic hit that came to a screeching halt. It forced us to think outside of the box and pivot quickly. So we did what we do best, create a line of products, but this time under our own brand. We now have 50 products plus and are distributed globally. Fortunately, as the demand for adult products grew, the demand for consulting and private label grew with it. So grateful to be busier than ever." - Autumn O'Bryan, Founder and CEO, Global Novelties LLC
The new shopper was more inquisitive, spending more time on our site exploring products as well as information on the company.
“At first our sales to retailers globally dropped but then quickly returned at much higher sales levels than 2019. Also, we increased our online advertising during the pandemic to sell to men who were stuck at home (like everyone else).” - Brian Sloan, creator of The Autoblow
“Once everyone settled into the new normal, we found the toy boom revolved around “play” products. Although vibrators will always be the No.1 sellers, we saw a major increase in anal and fetish play items. Once our doors opened again - with cleaning protocols in place - customers were RUSHING in the doors to purchase the items they couldn’t gauge from a website. (Particularly LINGERIE!)” - Sarah Franson, General Manager, Source Video Distributors
Once our doors opened again - with cleaning protocols in place - customers were RUSHING in the doors to purchase the items they couldn’t gauge from a website. (Particularly LINGERIE!)
“Not only have we seen an increase in sex toy and pleasure product sales thanks to the world spending more time at home, but we’ve seen a larger conversation building around these products since the pandemic hit. We’ve noticed that mainstream brands are seeking out partnerships with sex toy brands, more media are publishing articles about products, and celebrities and influencers are promoting these types of products now more than ever before. We believe that the pandemic pushed sex toys and pleasure products forward, visibly.” - Samantha Wolfin, PR Expert, WOW Tech
We’ve seen a larger conversation building around these products since the pandemic hit.
“Our store is located in Vista (North County San Diego), Calif., so when the Governor issued the stay-at-home order in March we were forced to close our doors. We were closed for a little over six weeks, but were able to operate minimally via curbside service two of those latter weeks. Our website is linked directly to our store inventory so processing orders during the beginning of COVID was virtually contactless. Business was booming.” - Staci Kurbis, Buyer, Deja Vu Love Boutique
“Being a smaller brand, we were fortunate to go into the pandemic with a strong inventory and ready to take on both our normal customer base as well as new customers. We gained a lot of visibility as retailers were looking for replenishment on core products, along with wanting to try our new products. It ended up boosting us as a brand to gain new market share and build on our current relationships.” - Danielle Seerley, Sales & Brand Evangelist, Voodoo Toys
“Adult board games is a large side of our business. Now that people are locked in their houses, we’ve seen a real ramp-up in requests for games. For us, it’s been really amazing that the silver lining of the pandemic is that couples have had time to be home together and have things they can play with that aren’t necessarily about therapy but about communication and fantasy and play. The real positive for me is that we’ve been able to have a moment where people can feel a need for our games.” - Casey Doyle, Account Manager, Creative Conceptions
"Most of our customers and the industry as a whole has seen massive growth. My hope is that it's not just the stimulus, it's not just people who are home more often and can't go out to bars, but that now we have people who have realized there's value in the products we carry. All of a sudden, these products become part of your life." - Steve Craig, CEO of Nalpac
So, what does this mean for the future of sex toys and other pleasure products?
We were also curious to know what predictions people in the industry had post-COVID. Would the increased interest in sexual health and connection continue? For the most part, predictions were positive. Now that so many people had made the leap to try a sex toy, very few believe they'll go back to life without one!
"Sex toys are still taboo but people are starting to take a step back and realize this stuff is normal. We’re all stressed - what better to beat that than with a toy?" -Nichole Grossman, Director of Marketing at CalExotics
We’re all stressed - what better to beat that than with a toy?
“We’re exploding now …. what happens when people can go out in the world again? I hope this made a positive impact and then carries over. We want people to remember this is how we lived in 2020. We ordered online and used curbside pickup - online is exploding because this is a platform that works. ” - Patrice F., Sales & Educator at Sensuva
“Last year, anal was trending, pegging was trending and people were trying new things. I don’t suspect 2021 will be much different until the vaccine and that’s going to take time. It’s an interesting time and I’m glad to be in the industry I’m in.” - Denise Young, Account Manager, Blush Novelties
“Many customers have resorted to shopping online to avoid going in person. However, our customers have remained loyal and we are seeing new customers come through our doors every week. I believe in our industry you want to see and touch the products you are putting in and on your body, not to mention you get the experience of shopping with an educated, sex positive team member.” - Loretta Goodling, Novelty Buyer, Excitement Adult Stores
“The pandemic has brought much-needed attention to justice issues, especially in the U.S. In the future, I predict we’ll see more consumer interest in ethically manufactured products from inclusive brands. Fun Factory products have been responsibly manufactured in Germany for 25 years and now more than ever we are seeing consumer interest in these practices. This is not a trend but an evolution in consumerism.” - Kristen Tribby, Head of Global Marketing, Fun Factory
The pandemic has brought much-needed attention to justice issues, especially in the U.S. In the future, I predict we’ll see more consumer interest in ethically manufactured products from inclusive brands.
“The shift towards increased digitalization and higher acceptance for experimenting in the bedroom is here to stay. For Handy, our mission is to remove the taboo for men to own sex toys, and the pandemic has pushed this process forward. I believe that the interactivity and digital pleasure experience that people have been introduced to during the pandemic will definitely continue developing and increase in popularity. And why shouldn’t it? We’re in 2021.” - Jens Petter Wilhelmsen, CEO of Sweet Tech AS (maker of The Handy.)