Cultural shifts have caused a growth in sales of sex toys online. While this is encouraging for brands, it’s also alluring for counterfeiters. Red Points’ market research investigates.
Key research findings:
- Marketplaces are overwhelmingly the most common platforms for sex toy shopping.
- Social media and online marketplaces remain huge counterfeiting threats.
- Sex toy consumers generally don’t search for fakes.
- Men are more likely than women to fall victim to counterfeits
The world is purchasing more sex toys online
The sex toy industry has grown healthily in recent years - a trend which is expected to continue at 7% CAGR to $35.5 billion by 2023, up nearly 50% from $23.7 billion in 2017, per research from TechNavio.
This industrial success is largely attributed to two key demographics. 64% of the growth is expected in the APAC (Asia-Pacific) region, an area of the world that’s been enjoying economic success and increasing disposable income, especially in the middle classes.
Secondly, the overall acceptance of LGBT groups in the west is also at a historically high point. In developed nations, the LGBT population is bigger than it’s ever been, and it’s the demographic that purchases sex toys and similar products more than any. This is highlighted as the second key source of growth for the sex toys industry.
Finally, people living in many parts of the world are experiencing a growing openness to experimenting with adult toys - not only those of LGBT identity but people of all sexual orientations. In particular, men are growing as a consumer base for the sex toys industry.
An additional source of growth for the adult toys industry has been the dawn of the internet. More so than with other industries, online sales help consumers overcome shyness about buying adult products. Despite the progressive acceptance of sexuality seen in modern times, the social taboo surrounding these products often puts people off from going to brick-and-mortar adult shops. Online shopping and discreet packaging allow people to buy adult products without revealing their purchases to the world.
However, this success is not only enjoyed by legitimate producers of intimacy products. As with a huge array of industries, counterfeiters have piggybacked on the success of the authentic, and use it to sell their knockoffs.
Fake sex toys - a danger to brands and users alike
We spoke to Tenga, a brand that creates adult novelty products for men, about the problems that consumers face in the event they get their hands on a counterfeit product. As seen in the comparison image below, a responsible brand such as Tenga takes steps to ensure the quality and safety of their products, by:
- Using body-safe ingredients,
- Manufacturing in sterile environments, and
- Using durable, high-quality materials
On the other hand, counterfeiters feel no responsibility to their customers - the only thing that interests them is quickly making sales before their channels are closed. The image above highlights issues that have been seen in real-world examples of counterfeits, and include:
- Dead insects in the product,
- Lubricants which potentially contain toxic ingredients,
- Strong smells, and
- Low-quality materials, likely to degrade quickly.
Sex toys research
In response to this growing issue, at Red Points we’ve carried out a market research investigation into the sale of counterfeit pleasure products online, focusing on:
- Consumer shopping habits
- Exposure to fake products
- Attitudes and opinions
For the research, we surveyed 516 people who plan to shop online for Valentine’s day, and who’d consider purchasing sex toys for the occasion. The respondents are made up of a roughly equal number of men and women and balanced between everyone from 18 years old to over 60. We’ve highlighted the key findings, and analyzed them below.
How people shop for sex toys
We can see the proof of a sex-positive western world almost immediately in the research. Question 2 was set as a qualifying question, and we found that two-thirds of our original 800 Valentine’s day shoppers would consider purchasing intimacy products. The festival is clearly no longer just for buying flowers and jewelry.
Consumers’ preference for online shopping was also proved. Not only did four-fifths of respondents state a preference for purchasing sex toys online over visiting a brick-and-mortar store, but a similar number also highlighted discretion as a key advantage for shopping online.
We then asked respondents about their preferred shopping channels online and found some surprising results. Marketplaces were overwhelmingly the most popular websites chosen and the only option with a majority of respondents choosing them.
The next most common answer was to use a product-specific site, such as Tenga or Lelo. After these two options, readers can see in the graph above that no other online platforms had major popularity for preferred shopping.
Reddit received a significant amount of votes, but there is no shopping option on the platform itself. The site is a combination of a content-sharing platform and a community forum, so it’s likely that “Redditors” are using the site to ask for recommendations, to search for reviews and to potentially find discounts shared amongst users.
Marketplaces: a haven for fake sex toys
The research then turned to the issue of counterfeit sex toys, which we found that 19.4% of our respondents had purchased in the past. We asked the research participants who had bought a fake where the counterfeit had come from.
The most common response given were Marketplaces. It’s clear then, that there is an issue of counterfeit products being sold on these, but considering 68.4% of respondents that displayed a preference for shopping for authentic products on the website, Marketplaces are far from the only questionable platform for brand safety.
Social media continue to be problematic platforms for counterfeiting. 29.3% of fake sex toys were reportedly purchased on social media - comparing this to the just over 10% of respondents who actually use these platforms to buy intimacy products, we can see that there is a shockingly increased chance of buying a knockoff on social media, either intentionally or accidentally.
The results from this question also highlight the relative safety of purchasing from product-specific websites, dropping from 37.6% as a preferred shopping channel to 11.2% as a source of counterfeits. However, there remains the question of why any counterfeits come from these sites at all. One probable answer is that users are instead finding rogue websites, and are being fooled into thinking they are authentic.
We then continued a series of questions to learn what path people are taking to end up buying counterfeit sex products. The search intent of these consumers should bring some hope to brands in this industry since just 15.2% of shoppers that bought a fake did so intentionally. The other 84.8% bought the counterfeit by mistake - either by looking for the authentic (49.9%) or by looking for a product that is visually similar to the original.
Sex toys for men and women
Dividing the responses by gender brought up some interesting conclusions. First, we found that men (23.1%) have much more commonly bought a fake sex toy in the past than women (16.1%). Men were also much more likely to be “Very satisfied”, and less likely to be “Very disappointed” with their experience of the counterfeit sex toy.
Additionally, 34.7% of women and 26.3% of men were concerned about fakes, and when made aware of a specific brand having a high number of counterfeits in the market, women were much more likely to see the brand as undesirable (57.0% vs 47.4%). Lastly, women are much more likely to warn their friends and family about the brand.
As the market for sex toys for men grows, brands are keeping an eye on the male demographic as a concern for brand protection. The research shows them as taking a somewhat haphazard approach to shopping for sex toys, with a greater likelihood of simply sticking with the counterfeit product they receive (which, as we’ve seen previously, was likely bought by accident).
The continuing expansion of the internet comes as both a blessing and a danger to sex toy brands. Consumers are hugely grateful for the discretion, convenience and ability to compare products that the internet provides. However, the net also allows counterfeiters to find potential customers all across the globe, and to more easily trick them into buying fakes.
The research shows that marketplaces are overwhelmingly the most common platform for sex toy shopping, and are also popular platforms for counterfeiters to make sales. However, brands would be wise to keep their eyes on a range of platforms, especially with the burgeoning issue of counterfeits on social media.
We’ve seen that, thankfully, sex toy consumers generally don’t search for fakes. However, there remains a considerable proportion of people who are being tricked into buying counterfeits, either when looking for a brand’s authentic product at a discount, or by looking for some visually-similar alternative.
For more insights, Red Points’ market research into the adult products industry: Faking it, is available as a free download by clicking the button below.