• King JCobra on FastCompany


    Shauna Mei just got back from shopping for male sex toys in Tokyo. Among the many, many variations of high-end "fleshlights," (Google it--but be warned, it's NSFW), she found one she liked. "They're done by a former architect, so they look like architectural sculptures," she told Fast Company. "You wouldn't even be able to tell what it is--you could put it on your coffee table!"
    Mei isn't in the market for a new conversation piece for her living room. But, the Japanese contraption is the type of upscale sex-related paraphernalia she will feature on her new site AHAnoir, a marketplace for high-end adult products and boudoir accessories, an offshoot of AHAlife, the popular online luxury site she launched in 2009.

    The new vertical, like its sister site, aims to sell a particular, Brooklyn-esque lifestyle. But instead of peddling pig-shaped soaps and organic baby booties, Noir focuses exclusively on products to enhance your sex life. Among the items available for purchase today: A $220,000 cobra-shaped cock ring, couture latex dresses--the kind Rihannah wears!--and intimacy art projects, each item meeting the aesthetic standards of a flawlessly hip urban dweller. (Most of Mei's clientele comes from large cities.)

    While AHAnoir launches today, sex isn't entirely new territory for AHAlife. Mei says AHAlife was the first third-party retailer to sell the sleek JimmyJane product line--which many consider the "Apple of sex toys." Before today, however, naughty items sat hidden in the subtly named "Back Room," which was tucked away under the "experiences" tab on the AHAlife site.

    Still, with what basically amounted to zero promotion, these sultry products managed to find buyers. Luxury vibrators and high-end pleasure beads are among the best sellers on the site, and sex items rack up an an average order value of $150. With even the smallest bit of nudging, the products have sold even better. On the rare occasion AHAlife slipped, say, a necklace that doubles as a nipple vibrator into a marketing email, it would sell better than the average non-sexy item in that same message.

    After researching the $15 billion sex-toys industry, spinning off and blowing up the X-rated section into a separate vertical made perfect business sense.

    Many people feel more comfortable purchasing sex toys online, rather than a place like Duane Reade, which does, in fact, sell dildos and vibrators. AHAnoir certainly isn't the first e-retailer to figure that out. But Mei hopes to offer a more pleasant experience than the current competitors. "We're known for quality," explained Mei. "I've been on sex toy sites where you have porn ads flashing boobs at you while you're trying buy a vibrator. That, to me, is very uncomfortable." Not all online sex shops look like they were "started by someone probably in the porn industry," to use Mei's words. But even less crass destinations like Adam & Eve, look more like Amazon.com, giving off a big box store rather than a boutique feel.

    AHAnoir, like AHAlife, hopes to offer a more intimate and engaging experience, beginning with the products themselves. The site showcases sexual objects that resonate with AHAlife's design- and quality-focused customer. While a lot of sex-related items can feel trashy or cheap, AHAnoir's selection prioritizes luxury--Mei only showcases the best of the best. Hence the $220,000 cock ring. But, not everything is wildly unaffordable. Prices start as low as $48 for sexy kits that include "everything you need to get the evening started."

    AHAnoir also focuses on the presentation of its products, drawing customers into the experience further. "We tell you the story behind the brand, the designer, the inspiration, how the product was made, and how you use it," Mei explained. That, coupled with tasteful images, creates a online shopping site you could almost peruse while at work. In addition, AHAnoir is launching a shoppable blog, which will cover topics like "Introduction to Bondage," linking to BDSM-related items for sale on AHAnoir while providing a how-to guide for novices. Mei will also host salon events once a month, during which an expert will talk to a select group

    The theory behind the effort is that women, in particular, are sensitive to shopping environments. The type of people who appreciate hand-crafted dildos will also seek out a hand-crafted website on which to buy them.

    Assuming AHAnoir is as successful as Mei suspects it will be, she plans on launching more verticals. Next up: children's products. Much like sex-related merchandise, that category performs particularly well on AHAlife. And, of course, after taking AHAnoir's products for a spin, Mei's customers could find themselves in need of a different kind of toy nine months down the road.

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