Pleasure seekers drive sex-toy sales despite downturn

We Vibe. Photo / Supplied
We Vibe. Photo / Supplied

New Zealanders aren't letting tough economic times put them off spending, when it comes to the bedroom, at least.

Adult toys and sexy lingerie appear to be defying a flat retailing environment.

Although overall consumer spending in July grew just 0.2 per cent on the month before, retailers of sex aids report increases in sales for the month of up to 50 per cent.

"At a time when unemployment is high and bank-account balances are low, people are passing the time by [having sex]," Stefan Dallakian, the owner of Paris Intimates, an online sex-toy distributor, told the United States' CNBC.

Kiwis seem to be getting in on the trend as well.

Director of d.vice Wendy Lee has noticed a big increase in sales over the past year, especially in the web-based retail side of the business.

The website reported that sales for July were up 50 per cent on the month before, which in turn was 20 per cent up on the month before that.

"There's been a steady increase across the year," Lee said.

She said one of the things that helped her company was that it had several outlets for its products. Although July's sales in traditional retail outlets were only 6 per cent up on the month before, sales from sex-toy parties were up 15 per cent.

Another of the big names in New Zealand's sex-toy industry, Erox, has also reported an increase in sales - enough for the company to open two new shops in Auckland.

Owner John Frew said sex toys were the type of thing people bought when they needed a bit of cheering up.

"They make love-making better. They are also really popular as gifts. We have products worth hundreds of dollars and they are selling well."

Lee agreed. "For singles, a vibrator is more than a cheer-up, it is all about having a good time, sexual pleasure."

Online sex-toy retailer JoannaG.com reported a 50 per cent increase in sales on this time last year.

The increase is even more remarkable when you consider the growth in the number of firms hawking sex toys.

Frew said the increase in online retailers was a sign of how much the sector was expanding but traditional shops' sales remained strong.

At last count there were 102 listings for vibrators on TradeMe and a Google search showed more than 30 sex-toy retailers with New Zealand websites.

Customer Stephenie Thompson said being able to shop online made the products more accessible. Before buying a sex toy two months ago, she did a lot of research online. "You can work out what you are after, what works, what doesn't and read reviews."

The websites are matter-of-fact, often aimed at women, easy to navigate and there is no chance of running into anyone you know. She said she bought a new sex toy every couple of months as a treat.

But Lee said it was a case of buyer beware for online shoppers, as with any form of retail. Many foreign companies were offering low-quality goods and often there was no recourse available if the products did not meet expectations.

"What you notice is that people don't have their address or phone number listed. If you can't find that, you take a risk," Lee said.

"There are lots of people getting into the sex-toy business, thinking it's a great way to make a lot of money, but it's just like any retail business."

One of the biggest shifts in the market had been towards quality products. Lee said d.vice did not bother to stock cheap items and she and Frew said the rechargeable We-vibe couple's vibrator, retailing for $189.99-$199.99, was their best-selling product.

Lee said the Australian retail market was going through an even bigger slump than New Zealand's, but d.vice had still been able to make gains there.

The company's sales at the Australian Sexpo have trended up year-on-year, despite a drop in traditional retail.

- Herald on Sunday

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