Vanilla is the New Black for Lingerie Retailers

By Ali Cudby

In the immediate aftermath of the CurveNY show, I’m still processing the gorgeous garments I saw to determine what it all means for lingerie retailers. In the meantime, one topic that immediately jumped out me was a presentation by Lelo about the post-50 Shades of Gray era. The bottom line? Vanilla is the new black.


The past few years seemingly everyone has been heavily influenced by kink. You couldn’t swing a flogger without smacking handcuff, blindfold and bondage-themed lingerie and accessories. Women had their fun, and men hardly knew what hit them (literally or figuratively).

In December 2012, pleasure product company LELO began a yearlong study of customer behavior over more than 25,000 participants.

In the aftermath of the book, a lot of women experimented in the bedroom (or the kitchen…or in public). The survey shares some fun statistics revealing increases in erotic activities ranging from threesomes to naughty home movies and sex in public.

And yet…

For the majority of women, the kink didn’t meet the hype. More than 80% of those surveyed claimed that experimentation with the world of “50 Shades” didn’t quite live up to the fantasy.

In terms of retail, that translated into flat-to-deflating sales of items ranging from whips, teasers and handcuffs.

But an interesting byproduct came from all of that disappointing experimentation.

Sales of couples’ massagers soared. In fact, they climbed 82% between 2012 and 2014. [NOTE: It’s important to keep in mind that this time-frame also coincided with innovations in couples’ massagers, so the data is not entirely pure.] Regardless, there’s valuable information to extract, because even as sales of bondage toys tailed off, sales of couples-orientated products stayed strong and continued to grow.

So what does that mean for a lingerie retailer?

Intimate, couple-oriented pleasure products – products for what Lelo is calling “vanilla” sex – are remaining a source for strong revenue opportunity, even as the eruption of 50 Shades of Grey finally (mercifully) peters out.

Talking about pleasure products in terms of intimacy and connection in couples is a different way to think about the sales approach. Pleasure products may not be the right inventory for every store. However, when a retailer chooses to add these products, it’s smart to think about this vanilla sales message as another means of encouraging customers to try something new.

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  1. […] Vanilla is the new black some say. […]

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