Q&A with Lovehoney’s director and head of operations Rob Godwin
How did coronavirus impact Lovehoney? Did it impact your supply chain at all?
Rob Godwin: I think all businesses have been impacted by coronavirus in one way or another, and it has influenced the way in which we have conducted operations in both our warehouse and our office. We are very lucky in that we have been able to continue to operate at full capacity, with social distancing and have not been in a position where we needed to cut down staff hours or pay.
The team is 100 per cent focused on maintaining the highest safety standards for all our employees. We have implemented a range of safety measures, such as strict social distancing rules, hourly cleaning schedules, staggered breaks and additional hand sanitiser stations, to ensure that those key members of staff who remain working in Lovehoney’s warehouses are kept safe.
The remainder of the team who are office based have been working effectively from home, including the customer care teams around the world, which means we can continue to provide great customer service. We provided all our staff with a remote working induction to help identify ways they can work smarter from home. The whole team has come back with some fantastic ideas and actions to put in place to ensure they are not only working more productively but also ensuring they are creating a good work/home life balance and keeping themselves happy and healthy.
As part of our staff benefits scheme we have also introduced an Employee Assistance Program, which offers each team member up to three free counselling sessions to help look after their mental health and general wellbeing – we felt having this service was more important than ever in the current climate, which has bought added pressures and anxiety for a lot of people.
Regarding our supply chain, we have seen increased demand over the past couple of months and our stock teams are working very hard to make sure all items are in stock and available to purchase via our sites. If we do experience any stock difficulties, we are trying to ensure we meet customer demand by offering suitable alternative products.
What are some of the interesting things that you’ve noticed around consumer behaviour since the pandemic hit?
RG: We recently conducted a lockdown survey of over 1,200 of our Australian customers, which asked them how their sexual behaviours have been affected by the virus and the restrictions that have been put in place. Although sexual activity has declined in frequency from pre-lockdown, from an average of 2.3 to 1.7 times a week, it seems that people are focusing on quality over quantity. We have seen that there has been a big increase in people trying new things in the bedroom (50 per cent), which is set to continue post lockdown with 74 per cent of people saying they are going to adopt these habits in the future. We also identified an increase in people sharing sexy texts (84 per cent) and 42 per cent of people we spoke to enjoying video sex calls.
We have seen an increased demand in things like app-controlled toys and quiet toys, which makes sense with people being lockdown with family and flatmates, and also with couples kept apart by the travel and social distancing restrictions. We’ve also seen a lot more people buying essentials, such as toy cleaners, lubricants and batteries, as well as some of our more realistic male toys.
Marketing-wise, we’ve seen a bit of a shift in the ways in which people consume social media and news, for example different platforms and the types of content they are looking for. Initially, we saw a demand for much more distracting content, but as we have evolved into a new state of ‘normal’, consumers seem to be seeking more traditional and informative messaging again. We also noticed changes to when people are online and checking their emails or social media accounts, and when they are carrying out their online shopping.
We are also currently looking at data around purchasing habits around the country during this time – we’ll keep you posted!
How has your messaging or communication with customers changed since coronavirus? Tell me about the 30 days challenge.
RG: Our communication with customers on a customer service level has not changed – we are still available and providing expert service for our customers 24/7 through phone, email, and live chat. As always, we are ensuring we provide honest and transparent messaging to our customers and the impacts the virus has on our service – primarily around deliveries.
As the leading sexual wellness brand, our core focus hasn’t changed significantly – our messaging has centered around self-care and sexual wellness. Throughout this time, we have been encouraging our customers to look after themselves and practice self-care, as well as delving into the health benefits of maintaining an active sex life, such as reducing stress and anxiety, and helping people to stay connected. The 30-day challenge we ran through our social channels highlights this, as we shared a daily task for our consumers to look after their general wellbeing.
Like many businesses, we have had to re-evaluate a lot of our marketing and communications activities this year, moving almost everything online and reimagining ideas with a digital hat on. We have a much bigger focus on digital marketing and above the line advertising with more traditional media outlets, such as TV and radio. We’re lucky to have such great technology resources at our fingertips to reach our customers through the likes of Zoom, live videos and podcasts. We actually re-introduced our sexual happiness podcast as a lockdown mini-series.
People’s desire for more content to provide a form of escapism, and the lack of face-to-face interaction through events and activations has given us the opportunity to be more inventive and diverse with our marketing content. We have put a bigger focus on things such as Facebook live events, interactive game content and working even closer with our influencers and ambassadors. As well as educational, our content has been fun and upbeat – after all, we are the sexual happiness company
What are some of your predictions for the post-pandemic world of retail?
RG: There has been a strong surge in new customers purchasing online which is encouraging for online retailers, and I expect to see an even bigger shift to online purchasing. People can see how easy, efficient, and discreet our service is and I predict that, as a result, the long-term growth in our category will be strong.
I think this time will have really highlighted the convenience and speed of online shopping for consumers, and companies will be looking at new ways to become more competitive in their online offerings. I see retailers becoming more innovative and working smarter, utilising new technologies, platforms, and a stronger reliance on things such as influencer marketing, combined with above the line advertising, to get their message heard.
When looking at work practices, I think this will bring more flexibility around working from home, with many retailers downsizing space to reduce overheads and offering an office and home working combination. Many companies will have seen the benefits of staff working from home and the capability of conducting virtual meetings. It’s important for businesses to ensure they are staying connected with their staff on a regular basis, and we have set up regular facetime catch-ups, social groups and virtual staff pizza days.
Beyond the pandemic, what are some of your plans for Lovehoney this year?
RG: As always, we have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline! One of the most exciting things for us will be the launch of our new website platform later this year, which will provide an even better user experience for our customers. We’ll be launching some great new products and a number of new lingerie lines, expanding our Australian team, publishing the results of more consumer research, looking at new marketplaces and announcing some exciting collaborations. Watch this space!
A part of Lovehoney’s way of connecting with customers was through physical activations and events. What is happening in that space in the future?
RG: We are awaiting further instruction from the government but we are hoping that this is something we can continue in the future – it may not be until next year but we see great value in getting out, meeting our customers and showing off our products.
In the short term, we will be conducting a lot more online activity, but as soon as it’s safe for us to physically connect with our customers, we will. We’re actually sponsoring a virtual ‘Sip and Paint’ session with Cork and Canvas on 29th May. Art and sex have always been intertwined, and painting is an excellent mindfulness activity, and mindfulness is crucial to self-care and self-love which is something Lovehoney is always passionate about celebrating. Some of the Lovehoney team will also be taking part – it’s going to be a lot of fun.
We still see the physical approach to two-way communication between Lovehoney and its customers as incredibly important. It’s an important way of building those relationships, understanding our customers better and removing the stigma around sex and sexual happiness by creating more intimate and engaging customer experiences.
The adult retail industry can be quite controversial, and it’s not often discussed in the mainstream. What kind of change would you like to see around that in the future?
RG: We are always working to remove the stigma and taboo around sexual happiness and the industry. We have already seen positive changes in reporting, with many media outlets becoming more receptive to the topic of sexual wellness. With shows like Netflix’s Sex Education proving so popular, this has really opened up the conversation among media and the public, with more people being encouraged to express their sexuality in a safe and enjoyable way.
From a retail perspective, we’d love to see more mainstream retailers stocking our products so that it becomes the norm for people to go out and purchase a product and have more open and honest conversations about sexual behaviours, without any shame or stigma attached.
It’s often been the case that sex sells for every industry, apart from the sex industry. In the past, we have experienced a reluctance from advertisers and governments to accept our marketing activations and messaging, promoting a positive sex life and sexual wellbeing, and we hope that in the future, we will have more opportunity to get our message out in these mainstream environments. It would also be great to see more recognition in the technology space as the industry leads the way in this area.