30 - 10 - 2016
BANGALORE: This may be the best kept secret of India's $2 billion e-commerce story. The country's middle class has found in it a platform that satiates their sexual desires and fantasies in ways that weren't possible before.
E-commerce portals like kaamastra, thatspersonal, ohmysecrets, imbesharam have emerged over the last one year or so offering products that include plain vanilla condoms, edible lingerie, play toys, baby dolls, role-play costumes, enlarger creams, tightening lotions, and much more. The target audience spans a wide age group of 18 to 65 years.
Over the next six months the product range will see the addition of imported sex furniture (designed for various positions) and tech toys that Vinodh Reddy, founder of ohmysecrets, believes would put the segment in an altogether new growth orbit.
"We are even developing a love app whereby a husband and wife through their telephonic conversation would be able to activate devices, connected via Bluetooth, for pleasure," adds Reddy.
Players say their sales are rising by 50% to 80% month-on-month. With the introduction of the newer range of products, some foresee sales rising significantly more.
"Social norms have changed substantially in the last 5 to10 years. All this has been a process in motion, which is impacted by TV and cinema and the internet," says Raj Armani COO of imbesharam.com.
"We knew there was an untapped market waiting to be explored," says Amit Batra, marketing head at kaamastra.com, which sees 60% of its sales come from tier II and tier III cities.
Smaller towns register bill orders of Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 per person, more than double that of metros. Tumkur in Karnataka, Warangal in Andhra Pradesh, and Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu are some of the top sales grossing cities for online players in this segment, which uses the euphemism "sexual wellness" to describe their trade. Armani says 80% of his store's 4,000 daily visitors come from mainland India.
"Last Valentine's Day we sold nearly 3,000 to 4,000 products in three weeks after having launched a month earlier," recollects Samir Saraiya, CEO of thatspersonal.com, who left his top dollar Microsoft job in Singapore in 2012 and returned to India to start thatspersonal.com.
"Initially, it did worry me as to how I would face society, my family, and my wife. Seeing the performance of the last one year, I have developed all the confidence to face anyone," he says.
'Even the courier doesn't know'
One big advantage of e-commerce in this space is the privacy it offers. "Not even the courier company or delivery boy knows what's in the package. That's the level of privacy," says Saraiya.
Kaamastra has a "Blackbox" policy that ensures complete discreet packaging and no mention of Kaamastra or the product name on the box or the credit card bill. "Many women in tier-2 and 3 cities stay with their in-laws, hence confidentiality is an utmost priority," Batra says.
In some cases, customers don't want door-step delivery of products, instead they voluntarily opt to collect orders from the nearest courier pick-up point.
The sexual wellness category is estimated at $220 million. Market research forecasts that the segment would clock $1 billion in sales by the turn of the decade, with condoms continuing to dominate the sales charts. However, the erotic lingerie segment is forecast to see the biggest growth of 45% to $192 million from $7 million at present.
While the growth is clearly being fueled by human desires, the space is also seeing great appetite by pedigree investors some of whom include Deepak Shahdadpuri, a key financial investor in Sula wines, venture capitalist Sanjay Kamlani, and Neville Taraporewalla of Microsoft India.
The segment also has to confront a big question. Is it legal to sell sex toys/apparels and related products in India? A reading of Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code does leave scope for different interpretations.
"There is nothing at this point that bans or prohibits the use of sex toys in India. The Indian Penal Code explains obscenity as something that affects the mind. It's more to do with the display and advertising of the product rather than actual consumption of the product itself," says Lekhesh Dholakia, a corporate attorney specializing in internet and telecom related laws in India.
He says that so long as products are not obscene and are displayed/exhibited in a manner that is not obscene, there is no legal concern. However, if a product/ article is found to be 'obscene', it then comes under the purview of Section 292, which makes it illegal.
Dholakia, who is also on the board of directors of thatspersonal, adds, "As a retailer our company approach is conservative. We don't even wish to cross the line even if the line is far away."