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While the porn ban makes headlines all over the media an industry that has quietly evolved in India without making a fuss about its existence is the sexual wellness industry. The internet has become the destination of choice for all kinds of shoppers looking for everything from fashion items to luxury goods to books. They do it for convenience, price and choice. But the net also offers privacy. And that's where the sexual wellness industry finds its sweet spot online.
There is no verified research for the market of sexual wellness products in India yet, but based on projections and selling trends, it can be estimated to be anywhere between Rs 1,200-1,500 crores. Sexual wellness is a wide net and can cover everything from female hygiene and care, lightening and tightening creams, energy shots and male enhancement creams and sprays, pregnancy tests and intimate washes, condoms and lubes, toys (that are not obscene looking and can pass as shoulder/feet massagers).
Online sites in the category say that unique hits range from 1000 to 10,000 to 10K monthly.
Gone are the days when adult products in this category were vulgar or gawky. Today with huge strides in advancement and improvisation, they have taken on a `consumer friendly' appeal and are more subtle. This is one of the reasons why there has been an industry shift towards these products that more players are entering the sector delivering what the Indian audiences desires and demands.
What are the products that are most in demand in India? Trends are popular based on films and books that reflect the industry. IMBesharam, a company set up in January 2011 in California with a presence in India too says that the bestselling products so far are the Fifty Shades of Grey collection (toys and BDSM products), lubes and oils, toys for men, and many other mid-level priced brands like vibrators, neon line and fetish line of domination products. "These are popular obviously because they are branded and recognized, and are good choice for beginners and starters who have already ventured or have the curiosity to try out new stuff,” says Raj Armani, Co- Founder, IMBesharam. "In the last three years of us being in business we have seen and heard probably everything that can be possible, from enema and douche shower kits to oral spinning wheel to candy bra and panties to pig tail butt plugs..the list is hilarious and eye opening and goes on and on,” adds Armani.
Lubricants and massagers are most often purchased at ThatsPersonal.com. Samir Saraiya, CEO, says, "Our average order value is Rs. 2000. Consumers, generally, buy at least two to three products together. The lubricants for instance are sold between the price ranges of Rs. 300 to Rs. 3500.” He has noticed an "unprecedented increase in demand" for sensual lingerie, fun games and erotic men's innerwear.
Recently That'sPersonal.com had a contest titled #DirtyTalkin4words on Twitter. "It became the number One trending topic worldwide on Twitter and we saw four times jump in revenue and 10 times jump in traffic for a short period of time,” says Saraiya.
Lingerie is a big buy at Privatelyurs.com, too, a company that was launched seven months ago. Founder Rajiv Ghosh says that what sells the most at the site is lingerie in the range of Rs 500-Rs 3,000, games at Rs 1,000 onwards and condoms too at prices starting from Rs 70.
At times, weird consumer queries do provoke a lot of laughter. "The other day a customer asked us to source a vibrating machine worth Rs12 lakhs and said that was for experimental purpose. We shipped it to him in 7 days,” says Armani.
Make in India?
The buyers of sexual wellness products are the ones who are aware of it thanks to trips abroad. Most of the buyers are from metro cities, say industry players. However, tier 2 and 3 cities are catching up and some of the companies claim to be growing between 230 percent to 900 percent with buyers from Jaipur, Surat/Ahmedabad among others. Sometimes orders come from far flung areas like Assam and Nagaland.
The top five regions that still maintain volume shoppers in numbers and order value as well are Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.
Unlike the Make in India program, most of the products in the sexual wellness category are sourced from abroad like USA, Germany, UK, Sweden, Australia, Canada, China and many more. Some firms source products like lingerie and condoms from wholesalers in India.
Mum's the word
One thing that remains common to all buyers of adult products in India is that they do not want to seen with their bedroom toys in public. So the customer often enquires about discreet packaging and that is one of the reasons they feel emboldened and assured about buying these products online. ThatsPersonal.com received the `most innovative e-commerce startup of the year 2015' at the Etailing awards in February 2015. At ThatsPersonal.com, consumers can pick up their order from the nearest location of their choice. This is a first in the entire e-commerce industry.
At IMBesharam.com, consumers are offered four shipping options, the most popular being Free Shipping! It usually takes 7-10 days to get it via this option. "The packaging so discreet that even Mr. Homes can't deduce its element!” says Armani.
There is a lot of legal ambiguity when it comes to selling sexual products in India which most players say is the most challenging aspect. They bemoan the fact that the law that regulates import, distribution and sale of obscene products in India was instituted in the post-Independence era and whether something is obscene or not is too loosely based on the perception of the individual. In the land of the Kamasutra and Khajuraho, the government is still shy of lifting the veil off this category.