Big Interview: Debbie Bond, Chief Commercial Officer, Lovehoney

Lovehoney saw business go "through the roof" when the Covid-19 pandemic first struck. Chief commercial officer Debbie Bond explains how the online sex toy and lingerie retailer has been maintaining its growth since the first UK-wide lockdown.

Lovehoney Debbie Bond chief commercial officer profile covid-19 pandemic lockdown online shopping
Debbie Bond.

The sex toy market has no doubt enjoyed a bumper year of sales as the Covid-19 pandemic forced people to spend more time at home.

In the first two weeks of the first UK-wide lockdown, sex toy sales in the UK increased by 25 per cent and the amount spent on them rose by 23 per cent, according to cashback and voucher codes website Quidco.

The trend even led to discount retailer Poundland launching a new £1 vibrator in May, just days after revealing a surge in the sales of pregnancy test kits.

Lovehoney Debbie Bond covid-19 pandemic lockdown online shopping
UK sex toy sales increased by 25% during the first two weeks of the first lockdown.

Lovehoney styles itself as the UK’s favourite adult shop because of its broad appeal due to a wide range of products. In addition, the online retailer offers a forum, which chief commercial officer Debbie Bond said sets Lovehoney apart from similar retailers.

“It isn’t just about selling product. It’s about providing our customers with a place where they can come and learn and contribute to the community,” she told Retail Gazette.

“We’ve got lots of fantastic assets that other companies don’t have. We offer a superb delivery service and customer service promise as well.”

Lovehoney Debbie Bond covid-19 pandemic lockdown online shopping
Lovehoney calls itself the “UK’s favourite adult shop”.

Bond said business at Lovehoney “went through the roof” when the Covid-19 pandemic first struck the UK in March. As an online-only retailer, it had the initial advantage of the inevitable and huge shift to online shopping as people were forced to work from home or put on furlough. In addition, restrictions prevented single people or couples who didn’t live together to socialise indoors.

“We’re 100 per cent pureplay. It has to be quite humble, really, to think that our categories benefited from such an awful pandemic. But from a commercial perspective, it’s been absolutely fabulous,” she reflected.

“Business went through the roof when the pandemic first struck”

Bond said Lovehoney was working towards introducing more technology-focused products after demand for remote-controlled items set off a trend. Sales of app-driven products were also accelerating, as people could use toys on their partners by connecting to their mobile phones while ensuring social distancing measures were respected.

Other products that witnessed an uplift in sales included “sexy costumes”, which Bond attributed to people wanting to “spice up their relationships”. On the other hand, quiet vibrators for those “stuck living at home with their mum and dad in the room next door” were also in demand.

“Our strapline is that sexual happiness is for everyone,” Bond said.

Indeed, Lovehoney recently conducted a survey found that two thirds of customers believe the quality of their sex life had a direct impact on their mental health.

“Our ability to leverage the importance of sexual happiness from a sexual wellbeing and perspective and our ability to speak to our customers from a wellness and mental health perspective is really important in lockdown,” Bond said.

Lovehoney has also undertaken regular surveys with customers all over the country to find out how Covid-19 has affected their lives and what they were purchasing.

“We’ve got a ‘sex map’ that shows this data. On our website, you can go and type in ‘London’ or ‘Manchester’ and it will tell you how ‘sexy’ your town is,” Bond laughed.

“We do some of it from a PR perspective, and to introduce a bit of fun into the world, and quite frankly, at the moment, that’s really important.

“Our strapline is that sexual happiness is for everyone”

“We use a lot of the data in terms of making sure that we’ve got the right categories of products, that we’re meeting demand for the price point perspective, and that we’ve got the right breadth of products.”

Bond’s previous job was not centred around mental health or sexual wellbeing. She joined Lovehoney in 2018 – the year it was bought by London-based private investment firm Telemos Capital – from Moss Bros, where she had worked as customer director since 2016. Her experience in being responsible for driving the menswear retailer’s customer journey across online and offline helped her take Lovehoney’s customer demands onboard.

“They’re very different businesses. Moss Bros is a very historic retailer. Lovehoney is much more entrepreneurial and agile,” she reflected.

“Lovehoney has the ability to be brave and to move fast, so it was a great transition for me because I’ve been in ecommerce for that 20 plus years.

“I love that fast-paced sense of retail that comes with Lovehoney. I find a slower, more conservative pace of retail more challenging to work in.”

Bond said she has also been able to capitalise on her her skills set from 10 years of working in retail and as a consultant at various companies. At Lovehoney, she is focused on keeping the online retailer ahead of an increasing number of rivals.

For example, she said Lovehoney was looking to expand into new territories such as Germany and France. More recently though, it acquired Amorana, the number one adult sex toy and lingerie company in Switzerland.

In the UK, Bond believes Lovehoney’s biggest competitor is sex toy and lingerie retailer Ann Summers, while in the US it’s Adam & Eve. She added that Lovehoney currently stands at number one in both the UK and Australia, while it holds the second spot in the US.

Lovehoney Debbie Bond covid-19 pandemic lockdown online shopping
Lovehoney’s biggest UK competitor is Ann Summers.

In an effort to be more reactive to customer demand and to stay ahead of rivals, Lovehoney launched a plus size lingerie collection in 2018. Bond said it took another two years for its UK competitor Ann Summers to do something similar.

“We’re constantly talking to our customers, listening to our customers, and that’s what our customers want,” she said.

“We definitely launched our plus size range as a result of feedback. We wanted to see what would sell, what the appetite is from the customers.

“All of our products get reviewed by our customers, and we take in their feedback before they launch.

“Our plus size category has been enormously successful across all of our territories, and in particular, in Germany and the US.

“Inclusivity and diversity is incredibly important to us as a business to make sure that we can bring sexual happiness to everybody.

“If you have a look at the custom reviews that we’ve got on our website, we have fantastic reviews around our plus size range, particularly about how good the fit is, and how sexy people feel, even if they have a larger size.”

Lovehoney Debbie Bond covid-19 pandemic lockdown online shopping
Lovehoney launched its plus size lingerie collection in 2018.

Lovehoney’s biggest challenge at the moment isn’t Covid-related. If anything, it’s mainly the challenges around marketing. As a sex toy retailer, Lovehoney faces an adult category restriction which limits the traffic it receives compared to other online retailers.

“We’re not allowed to advertise our products on Instagram or Facebook, and there’s lots of restrictions on the new social platforms that are emerging,” Bond told Retail Gazette.

“Being restricted on those channels is very challenging, because essentially it leaves us with more traditional channels like email and pay per click on Google – which is more expensive.

“Our ability to market on a level playing field with other businesses on social media is very challenging.

“Our main platform for advertising is email, because obviously as an adult toy retailer, our options will be limited.”

Despite the restrictions, Bond expected bumper sales from this year’s golden quarter trading period.

Although Lovehoney witnessed a slight drop in sales when the first lockdown was lifted, Bond said there was still a double-digit trend in sales growth. She added that Lovehoney has the advantage of being an online-only retailer.

“What we’re expecting to see is the continuation of the macroeconomic trend of the shift of physical retail into online retailing,” she said.

“We are hoping to leverage the benefit that we’ve had from the pandemic in terms of fuelling our growth for next year.”

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