German Sex Shops Experience Seismic Shift

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    Sex shops all over the world are forced to transform themselves. Digitization, changed public and media perception of sexual themes in general and sex toys in particular and free porn on the internet force the whole industry to rethink and change their business models. Germany is no exception.

    The insolvency proceedings against Beate Uhse, Germany’s iconic adult entertainment giant was only the latest sign in the ongoing change within an industry that 20 years ago was still caged in shady outlets with a bad reputation. The increasing popularity and normalization of sex toys was helped by pop culture juggernauts like Sex and the City and 50 Shades of Grey as well as the open internet paving the way to people educating themselves with sexual and pornographic contents from all over the world about sexuality, gender identity and fetishes in the privacy of their own home.

    While the social acceptance of sex toys and the public understanding of the variety of human sexuality grew there was also a more general digitization of all areas of human existence. And finally one of the biggest sources for income in traditional sex shops became freely available 24/7: the rise of porn tube sites shattered the way adult entertainment earns money and increasingly meant that sex shops had to try to make sex toys and sexual wellness products the new core of their business while fighting off online-only-retailers like Amazon or new emerging forces like Eis.de and Amorelie.de.

    Traditional sex shop chains like Orion seem to be caught between eras: the new emerging one, not yet enough to sustain fully developed businesses and the old way of selling sex toys and porn increasingly losing customers and sales.  A typical Orion store still looks partly like an old sex shop: bad lightning, rather dark fetish products. But other parts of the store show a new face: open, friendly, inviting focusing on couples and design based sex toys. Porn has become scarce. Only a few DVDs are left. Most of the space is dedicated to colorful, sleekly designed vibrators, plugs and sensual lubes and massage oils.

    Orion’s concept of trying to cater to both eras seems to work for now. The former subsidiary of Beate Uhse still owns and operates 147 stores throughout Germany and was even interested in buying its former parent company. Still Amazon and online-only-retailer are heavy competition for physical stores still fighting with the customers’ shame and preference for secrecy and privacy when shopping for sex toys.

    Uwe Kaltenberg is managing director of the trade group Bundesverband Erotik Handel (BEH) says that 20 years ago most of the sex shop owners made 70% of their revenue with the sale of porn on VHS/DVD or in their porn booths. According to BEH that number completely changed. Today only 30% of the income stems from porn.

    The Wiesbaden based sex shop Adam & Eva was interviewed by Merkurist. Managing Director Thorsten Müllenmeister said that while his sales have not been down in the past few years the products he sells have changed. He, too, saw demand for porn go down while the sales from sex toys increased. All in all it didn’t translate into losses for his store. He said: »We are increasingly focusing on high-quality products and customer service. There are enough people out there that need advice and expertise only an experienced retailer can offer.

    His colleague Stefan Leift from Erotic Dream Shop paints a darker picture. According to him, his store suffers from the online competitors’ aggressive pricing policy and that he also started an online store to compete with bigger companies. He said: »Five years ago this business was a lot more fun.« Leift thinks that more and more it all comes down to pricing. And that might be a problem for smaller stores like his.

     

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