It’s a $24.5 billion global industry ripe for the taking, with more brands popping up by the minute to answer unique desires and reach longing markets.
But as with any topic as politicized as sex, challenges persist. The nature of the business requires extra rigor on the part of founders to protect customer privacy. And, while technology has made it easier to reach buyers, it’s also often the source of strife for those selling sex toys. Restrictions from financial institutions and social media platforms demand that adult brand founders find creative solutions.
With the right tools, a unique product or idea, and plenty of research, however, it’s possible to build a successful brand selling sex toys and accessories online.
Here, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of the sex toy industry, with guidance on everything from developing a brand to ensuring customer satisfaction, as well as advice and real examples from seasoned pros.
How to sell sex toys online and launch an adult brand
Those passionate about sex education, empowerment, or supporting communities marginalized by traditional sex content and products may find the sex toy industry a fulfilling space to launch as an entrepreneur. And as demand increases (the global industry is projected to be valued at $36.1 billion by 2027), there’s still room for newcomers to the space.
But it’s an industry that requires a little navigation. We’ve gathered in one place everything you need to know to sell sex toys online.
Setup, themes, and design
Once you have developed branding guidelines, you can plug your logo, colors, and other assets into preset, customizable themes. This makes the setup process simple, even if you don’t have strong design or coding skills.
Suggested themes for selling sex toys online:
- Dawn (Default): Free
- Galleria (Boutique): $$
- Context (Modern): $$
- Boost (Flourish): $$$
- Prestige (Vogue): $$$
- Pipeline (Bright): $$$
If you require further customization, you can work with a Shopify Expert to tweak a theme or build a unique site for your brand.
Essential pages for your website
There are a few critical pages to build when you are setting up an online sex toy store.
Collection pages. If you have a large collection of products, sort them into themes based on type, sexual preferences, kinks, or any other categories that help your customers navigate your website and find what they’re looking for.
Product pages. Due to the nature of your business and product, product pages need to pull more weight than simply providing a description, photo, price, and Buy button. Use an app that lets you create tabbed information to avoid clutter on the page. Information that can be useful here includes: use instructions, safety warnings, cleaning and care tips, and warranty information.
FAQ page. This is an important page for those selling sex toys online. You likely will be selling products that cannot be returned for resale, due to hygiene and safety reasons. This is the place to clearly state your return and exchange policy. You can also answer questions here about materials, product use and care, privacy, and shipping.
About page. Remember that brand exercise? This is an opportunity for your brand story to shine and to build trust with customers. Whether or not you center yourself and your personal story here, you can still remind customers that there are real people behind your brand. This page could contain your mission, values, company history, and press links.
Photography for sex toy brands
With most businesses selling online, you don’t have the benefit of letting customers touch, feel, or demo your products before buying. Your product page should be as descriptive as possible to help replicate the in-person experience—both with copy and photography. Shoot products at multiple angles and include images of any accessories (charging devices).
While your product page should prioritize clear and uncluttered images to highlight the product, a lifestyle shoot can provide images for other places on the site, as well as for social images, ads, and your press kit.
This is an opportunity to capture the tone of your brand visually. Emojibator leaned into the humorous side of the products, having fun with its lifestyle photography. “We were brilliantly practical in our decision to take a picture of our friend’s cat holding the Eggplant Emojibator for our press release,” says Kristin, “and the internet in response laughed along with us.”
Also consider what video assets you may need for customer education or marketing tools. Hire a professional to shoot core assets that you’ll use over and over, and consider DIY video content for platforms like TikTok.
- Product Photography: DIY Guide for People on a Budget
- How to Take High-Quality Product Photos With Your Smartphone
Choosing payment providers
When Meesh moved her brand to Shopify, her products fell under Shopify Payments’ acceptable use policy regarding products. But her peers have faced challenges. As a security measure, Strange Bedfellas secured a backup payment provider.
The recent news surrounding OnlyFans demonstrated just how tenuous the relationship has become between financial institutions and those running sex-related businesses. “We face unjust financial discrimination as a sex toy company, and it prevents us from competing fairly in the marketplace,” says Kristin.
But many brands successfully run their shops on Shopify using a variety of payment providers. “Read the terms of service and what is and isn’t allowed to be sold,” says Little Jane’s Sarah Starkey. “This not only differs between payment providers but also between the same provider based on country. Nudity in images, prostitution, weapons, bondage and potential for injury could all be relevant.”
- Shopify’s Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), including guidance on Restricted Items
- Shopify Payments Terms of Service: Prohibited Businesses (Note: Even if you can’t sell through Shopify Payments, you may still be able to sell on the platform using a third-party gateway that supports your service or products.)
- PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy
- Stripe’s list of Restricted Businesses
Note: This is not an exhaustive list. There are several other payment providers available to you, depending on your region and business type. We suggest you seek legal advice in ensuring you are complying with the terms and conditions of any platform and payment provider you work with to avoid future surprises.
Education is essential to sex toy companies to both ensure that the customer makes an informed purchase and to protect themselves and customers from any harm. “The products we sell are very intimate by nature, and I want to help people make choices they will have good experiences with,” says Meesh.
Producing content is not only a fun challenge but a way for our brand to lean in on our educational mission.Joe Vela, Emojibator
Educational information can appear on product pages, FAQ pages, and product packaging. But it can also form part of your content strategy. Informative sexual health information can establish you as a trusted expert—and content can help drive purchases.
Emojibator took educational content to the next level, launching a month-long campaign each year. “During the month of May, our MasturbationMonth.com site receives nearly twice as many visits as our shop’s site!” says Joe. “Producing this content is a way for our brand to lean in on our educational mission.”
Sales channels for sex toys
With the challenges and restrictions related to online ads for sex toy businesses (we’ll talk about that in a minute), many brands need to get creative by adding more sales channels to achieve wider reach.
Consider the following:
- Sex shop founder Amy Unicorn tells us that events like drag shows are a key part of her business. Music festivals, artisan markets, and other events may also work for you, depending on the nature of your product.
- Formal trade shows or consumer shows are another type of event that can draw wholesale buyers and customers to your brand
- Selling wholesale through other established retailers can expand your reach. Seventy percent of Emojibator’s business is wholesale, says Joe.
- The next stage of your online sex toy business might be a physical retail store, where you can benefit from passerby traffic and local listings. Dabble in IRL selling with a pop-up shop first.
- Online marketplaces are another option. Check with the platform’s terms of service to ensure that your products are approved on the site.
“The biggest challenge has been raising awareness about our brand and products,” says Joe. “That’s why we’ve leaned in on our wholesale sales channel. We have been lucky to find reputable and certified partners around the world.”
- How to Set Up and Open a Pop-Up Shop
- Trade Show Planning: How Retailers Can Get the Most ROI From These Sales Events
- Handshake: The Handpicked Wholesale Marketplace
Apps and tools for adult stores
Shopify integrates with multiple apps to augment the experience for customers and customize your site to your needs. We also offer a number of free tools to help you launch and run your business.
Here are a few suggestions for brands selling sex toys online:
- With more challenges in reaching new customers, sex brands should pay plently of attention to existing customers. A loyalty app like Gift Cards & Loyalty Program will help you reward and retain your biggest supporters.
- The Easy FAQ Page helps you quickly set up a simple FAQ page on your Shopify store.
- You may wish to formalize your shop policies and ensure that customers understand them by adding a Terms and Conditions Checkbox.
- A video maker like Vimeo Create or Shopify’s Online Video Maker can help you produce professional video ads and educational content.
- An age-verification app, like Age Verification 18+ Popup or Real ID, can provide a checkpoint to let browsers know that your site contains adult content.
Safety and privacy for adult stores
You are about to launch in an industry that has unique challenges due to the intimate nature of the product. Spend time here to ensure your butt is covered.
Product safety and testing
As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide a few times, safety is a concern if you are planning to sell sex toys. Rules and restrictions may govern your business depending on where you live, so it’s important to do your own research.
“I don’t personally give instructions on how to use our products because I’m not a sex educator,” says Meesh. “My best tool is to put disclaimers on our products and encourage folks to do their research before purchasing.”
The community looks out for its members, and identifying dangerous shops is part of that. You don’t want to be on the bad list.Meesh Oglesby-Cunningham, Strange Bedfellas
Disclaimers, as well as FAQs, instructional videos, and proper labelling can all help to ensure your product is used safely. At the production phase, work carefully with your manufacturer to ensure they have stringent safety standards. Expect the same of any other brand you work with as well.
As an extra precaution, you may want to consult with a lawyer to ensure you are meeting any legal requirements for safety and labelling.
“The community looks out for its members, and identifying dangerous shops is part of that,” says Meesh. “You don’t want to be on the bad list.”
While you’re launching your sex toy business in a time whenwhere views about sexuality are much more liberal and open, there are still many reasons why someone would want their purchases to remain private. “A lot of our customers live with family or friends who may not appreciate finding their purchases or may be quite hostile to them about it,” says Meesh.
As such, Strange Bedfellas ships in plain boxes and uses its generic LLC name on the return label. Similarly, “due to societal realities,” Kristin says that the brand name doesn’t appear on shipping packaging or credit card statements.
A lot of our customers live with family or friends who may not appreciate finding their purchases or may be quite hostile to them about it.Meesh Oglesby-Cunningham, Strange Bedfellas
Privacy also extends to the information you collect from your customer. There are already many laws that govern how you use this info, but the sex toy businesses may want to be forthcoming about how they handle data. “We don’t share any personal data with third parties that don’t require it,” says Joe. “If anyone requests their data to be deleted, we ensure it’s wiped completely from all of our systems.”
“I actually really enjoy when customers ask detailed questions before purchasing items,” says Meesh, who finds that the communication helps her recommend the best products. But occasionally, she’ll even find that another brand might be better suited to their needs. “I have a lot of peers in this industry whose work I trust, and I have no problem referring customers to them if I think they’ll be a better fit.”
Due to the nature of sex-related products, returns and exchanges are usually not possible. That’s why customer support at all stages is important to avoid unhappy customers.
“We have an extensive policies page and we link to it often throughout the site: on listings, on info pages, in all the emails we send,” says Meesh. “We can’t say it often enough!”
There may be cases when you will accept returns of open products, say in the event of a manufacturing flaw. If you’re a reseller, the product you’re selling may have a warranty, and you can refer those customer service issues to the manufacturer.
Emojibator offers a one-year warranty on all of its products. The company prioritizes customer support to ensure that any warranty claims are handled with care.
“We know sex toy experiences are unique to each person,” says Kristin, “so we treat each customer with the utmost respect, patience and kindness.”
We at ShopShipShake have been working with businesses like yours with fulfilling experiences. We offer one-stop services, including an efficient supply chain, over 10 thousand of China’s suppliers, and more.
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