Intimate wellness is getting physical.
While beauty stores and mass retailers alike committed to building out intimate and sexual wellness categories, much of the expansion had been digital with brands like Maude and Dame going on Sephora’s website and Bloomi launching on Saks’ site. Ulta Beauty, which now operates The Wellness Shop, has an intimate wellness category in-store with more expansive offerings, including sex devices, online.
But now, with a bit more experience in the category, beauty retailers are bringing more of these offerings into physical stores, most notably Maude launching certain stock keeping units at Sephora. Mass retailers that have had sexual wellness on the aisles for years — think heritage brands — are now looking to shake things up and modernize the category, as well. For example, Target is bringing Dame, a vibrant sexual wellness brand, and Jems, a modern condom brand, to its shelves.
By launching a brand digital first, followed by in-store, retailers are testing the waters with these new brands.
“It’s a bit of risk aversion on the part of the retailers, but it’s also what I would call a contemporary way of testing,” said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer at WSL Strategic Retail. “It has become a legitimate distribution strategy.”
While this approach isn’t specific to intimate wellness, Liebmann hypothesizes it’s a way for retailers to ease into this newer category.
“It’s their way of editing what’s available, and I do think most of the particularly broad-based retailers are often overly sensitive to what they think their shoppers are expecting on the shelf,” she said. “Sometimes the retailers are more conservative than the shoppers.”
After offering Maude online for a year, Sephora is now bringing the brand into physical doors, introducing intimate wellness in-person for the first time. The retailer will also launch Luna Daily, an intimate body care brand, online next week and in-stores mid-April.
“The debut of Intimate Care in Sephora stores is significant because it underscores our driving motivation for the category — namely, to encourage empowerment and destigmatization, and to show up in a way that differs substantially from how the category has historically been displayed, discussed and accessed by the public with a sense of secrecy and taboo,” said Cindy Deily, Sephora’s vice president of skincare merchandising.
While Maude has been successful on the brand’s site with different offerings, including devices, the in-store options will focus on topicals, including lubricants and intimate body care.
“The significance of going to Sephora specifically is that there’s never been a sexual wellness brand in their doors at all,” said Éva Goicochea, founder of Maude. “This is a big shift in where you can find the product. It really validates the category in terms of seeing it as on par and worthy of the same kind of merchandising and opportunity to find it as beauty and wellness.”
When asked whether guests should expect devices in-store, Deily said Sephora’s “product assortment is carefully curated to best serve the evolving needs of our clients.” While major stores like Target have them, devices and accessories appear to be considered online-only products for beauty retailers.
Ulta Beauty has had a similar approach to Sephora’s — though the retailer has offered intimate wellness on shelves for a while now — focusing on topicals in-store and having a more expansive offering online to include devices.
“When curating our offerings, we took a thoughtful approach to provide greater access to intimate solutions, while also being mindful of our younger guests shopping in stores,” said Ulta Beauty’s vice president of merchandising Penny Coy. “We do have select products available in store within The Wellness Shop; however, our full intimate and sexual wellness offerings live primarily on Ulta.com, allowing for discreet discovery and ease of shopping online.”
Coy noted, when it comes to sexual wellness, launching online versus in-store “is less about testing the waters and more of a reflection of how guests want to shop and explore the category.”
As beauty retailers double down on launching the category, mass retailers, like Target, are focused on innovating an existing aisle. Jems and Dame are key brands in that reinvention.
“With the advent of putting something like Jems on the shelf, it automatically changes what’s on offer and what young people are seeing when they approach that aisle [the condom aisle]. It’s sending a different message,” said Jems cofounder Whitney Geller.
Jems cofounder Yasemin Emory equates the shift of condoms in-store to that of sunscreen a few years ago.
“It’s not coming from a place of fear, but it’s coming from, ‘This is part of your everyday needs and you need to be armed with it.’ We want to make the product feel different, look different and be accessible in a different way,” she said. An in-store presence, like the brand now has with Target, is key.
In taking on Jems and Dame, Target is expanding its sexual wellness offerings, seemingly targeting a younger consumer. According to the retailer, in-store offerings are always informed by consumer demand. Similar to the retailer’s beauty counterparts, more expansive offerings in the sexual wellness category are available online.
But while consumers can expect a greater, more modern in-store sexual and intimate wellness offering across retailers, certain aspects have proven to be difficult, specifically what is merchandised and how — think absence of devices in beauty retailers or the taboo previously associated with the condom/sexual health aisle.
“It has to be pulled out from the dark aisles,” Liebmann said. “The shelf is already there. The consumer is already there in terms of interest in these categories and then the range of products that go with them. We’ve had products like KY Jelly for what feels like thousands of years. It has to be presented in a way that doesn’t feel dark and shameful because clearly the consumer has already said, ‘These are things I want and I will go online to buy them if you don’t present it in a way that makes me feel comfortable and easy and not ashamed.’”
- More intimate and sexual wellness offerings, specifically topicals, will be available in major beauty retailers.
- Expect increased innovation at big-box retailers, as they aim to modernize sexual health aisles with new brands.
- Devices will likely remain online-only at beauty retailers for the time being. Big-box retailers will be more likely to have devices in-store.