A Look at the Serious Business of Novelties in Retail

Adult retailers put a lot of thought into the products they carry. They want to offer customers high-quality sex toys with the latest technology and features, plus a robust selection of condoms and lubricants — all at competitive prices. In fact, adult retail has come such a long way since the days of “novelty” items that it’s easy to forget how lucrative a category “novelty” still is.

Often found in store aisles catering to bachelorette parties, April Fools’ Day pranks and milestone birthdays, novelty items are typically designed without a practical purpose. Instead, they exist to be fun, cute, funny or to spark a shocked or excited response. However, today’s novelty items go far beyond stereotypical jelly dongs, penis straws and blowup dolls. Given the chance — and the merchandising attention often reserved only for pricier vibrators and couples toys — modern novelty items can do a lot of good for both your business and your customers. Read on to find out how novelty items have evolved and what they can do for your bottom line.

Redefining the Novelty Category

In our industry, the word “novelty” has a somewhat fraught history. Historically, our products had to be referred to as novelties in order to work around censorship and comply with oppressive legal restrictions. More recently, over the last five years or so, the term has become unfairly associated with unserious, unsafe or cheap manufacturing. I’d like to suggest that novelty items today deserve a different reputation: as a revenue-building category.

For example, many retailers have found that part of the appeal of fantastical, otherworldly dildo shapes is their collectability, even more so than their usability. Each SKU celebrates a specific kind of monster, alien or fantasy character that shoppers relate to or even cosplay. That means their purchases are about connecting with their hobbies and interests and sharing them with others. It has therefore become clear that offering lower-priced, lower-stakes and lower-commitment fantasy dildos is a smart move.

The Benefits of Novelty Items

Carrying novelty items offers more advantages than you might think. Here are a few:

  • Impulse, impulse, impulse! Novelty items not made for sexual or sensual use are fantastic impulse products because of their typically low price points, eye-catching appearance and strong merchandisability. These items tend to be small, which means low-footprint displays like counter spinners, POP boxes and fishbowls are ideal and functional in stores with limited space. It also means they target shoppers right when they’re pulling out their wallets and looking around at last-minute items they might be able to toss in with their purchase.
  • Variety is the spice of life. Novelty items have a completely different vibe from sex toys or lube. This makes them stand out, especially to shoppers who might be there to make a larger purchase. These products offer a fun and amusing way to express an identity, connect with a partner, nonverbally communicate curiosities or kinks, or simply get a rise out of onlookers. That’s another reason why shoppers often find them hard to resist.
  • Hey, good looking…By nature, novelty items are typically cute, silly and/or attention-grabbing, which makes them ideal not only for point-of-purchase displays, but also window displays, promo campaigns and clever social media images. Colorful novelty items, especially ones that make customers do a double-take, help make almost any advertising, marketing or window designs seriously head-turning.
  • Diversity for the win. Diversifying your online and in-store inventory, in terms of both categories and prices, makes it possible to offer something for almost every taste, comfort level and budget, which is an effective way to expand your potential customer base.
  • Be cool. Nowadays it’s cooler than ever to be open about one’s identity and interests in nonsexual ways, and wearable accessories like enamel pins have exploded in popularity thanks to their low price point and almost unlimited opportunities for creativity.

Novelty items are also ideal for new or first-time shoppers who likely won’t be leaving with a sex toy or bottle of lube, but may be more willing to start with something cheeky but “safe,” like a sex-positive enamel pin.

And of course, gifting is a big reason to stock novelty items. When putting together a sexy or romantic gift, a powerful massager or lingerie might be the main attraction, but adding an item like a plush BDSM stuffie rounds out the purchase with something cute but still “wink-wink.”

For retailers, novelty items are a lower-risk way to expand beyond sex toys and apparel, and there’s a good chance they’ll be a slam dunk. They can attract new and return customers, boost your bottom line and make your store more distinct with cute, eye-catching displays. And let’s face it, these kinds of products are fun. It can be tempting to dismiss this category, but don’t let the name fool you — novelty items can make for serious business.

A Look at the Serious Business of Novelties in Retail by Rebecca Weinberg originally appeared in XBIZ.

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