For Adults Only… now in India!

16 Jan,2013

 

By Ullekh NP

 

A Delhi-based photographer, Manasa Madishetty, 28, remembers paying a visit to Palika Bazaar, the crowded underground market in the heart of the national capital, along with a reporter a few years ago to survey sex toys for a magazine story. “Disgusting,” she describes the response of the shopkeepers.

 

We are helping society evolve: Samir Saraiya
 

By Johnson Napier

 

It’s unusual to see Indians satisfy their sensual curiosity in a manner that could be termed appropriate. The reality today is such that if one senses the urge to experiment with one’s sensuality, the only way that’s possible is to do it in an inappropriate way and rather sheepishly. Part of the problem could be that the society hasn’t been liberal in its dealing with the issue and other such observations but the fact remains that there are a few from the lot that don’t mind indulging in experiences of sensual variety.

 

In its quest to let this populace go ahead and indulge in some pleasurable moments, Samir Saraiya, CEO of Digital E-Life has announced the rollout of a unique venture titled thatspersonal.com. In a conversation with MxmIndia, Mr Saraiya discloses that the e-commerce venture will look at offering users products they wished to experiment within their bedroom but were afraid of doing so. And if you thought that this was not permissible under the Indian law, you’d be surprised to know that needn’t necessarily be the case if all the details are looked finely into. Read on to explore more…

 

What led you to venture into a realm that is out of the ordinary especially given your professional stints across notable organisations in the past?

Well I was with Microsoft for 5 years of which I spent three years in Singapore and two in India. Prior to that, I was with Yahoo. When in Singapore, a trend that me and my friends spotted in the Indian landscape was that in 2010-11 there were a lot of entrepreneurs who were getting into the e-commerce space. There was a lot of temptation by friends and family to also do something of my own in that space. But the question that arose was what do I get into? Each and every sector you can dream of had multiple players who were offering that service. After a bit of researching, what I realised that most players were playing e-commerce on three pillars: convenience, choice and pricing. So I decided to innovate and play on a completely new pillar – buy from me and nobody knows. Based on my interaction with friends and people at large, I realised that many people were not comfortable when it came to discussing or buying sensual products. Part of it was because of the upbringing that they were brought up with and also societal inhibitions that stopped them from trying these products out. During the course of this experimentation, what I realised is that sexual wellness is a very good category to begin with.

 

So sexual wellness is how you would want to categorise your offering under? What was the next phase of the game plan?

So when still in Singapore, the first thing I did was call my lawyer to check on the legal ramifications of operating in this space. After gathering sufficient knowledge on the subject, there was a level of comfort that I attained which made me look at this space even more prominently. Also, such a concept was doing fantastic business in Singapore where there was a lot of money being made by the players offering this service. When I sat to evaluate on what are the sexual wellness products available in India I found there was almost nothing compared to what you get internationally. My next step was to speak to international brands and get them interested to make a foray into India. Today I have close to 10-15 international brands and about a decade or so Indian brands on board. There are two guidelines when it comes to selling of such products in India. We follow two well-defined guidelines: products that are made in India for sale in India and secondly, products which can be imported under the Indian Customs Act under the open general license scheme prescribed by the Government of India where one can pay full duty and whatever surcharge amount that is to be paid. Once that procedure is followed, you can then go ahead and sell products that are sellable in India. So we would be selling products like lingerie, lotions, creams etc.’

 

Indian families are seen to be conservative in their opinion on sex, especially females. Or is that perception changing? What is the female:male ratio of visitors you expect from your website?

The thing is that we’ve just launched at the beginning of the year so we won’t be able to share such slicing of data. But from the initial feedback, we have getting a good response from the female audiences. That’s a good sign as normally e-commerce is mostly male-oriented but we are receiving good response from females as well. We believe that by maintaining the secrecy of customer information is something that females will appreciate more in this country. We also believe that we are the first store where a woman can shop in confidence for her personal products.

 

How do you ensure secrecy options to your customers? Any novel delivery mechanisms being followed…?

Yes, as far as delivery of goods go if anybody wants to get the product at their residence we will do so through a tamper-proof box which is unmarked so the entire delivery chain has no idea what is inside. So customers who want to shop our products can provide us their pin-code and based on where their home or office is they can select their delivery point and can either pick it up themselves or even authorise anybody else to do so on their behalf. So the customer gets to control the last mile. So from the time the product leaves our delivery room to the time the customer opens it nobody in the chain knows what is there in the box.

 

Could you brief us on what the average TG looks like who shop from your website?

If you are asking me who my TG is, the answer is I do not know who they are and I want to learn more about that aspect. Based on reactions with the outside world, half the people tell me that the 20-30 age group will buy my products while the others tell me that 30-45 age group will buy them more. The fact is that the youth in their 20s, 30s are pretty much experimental and more exposed to global trends.

 

The other interesting feedback I keep getting is that half my customers will be people who have travelled abroad and are used to buying these products abroad and will therefore now buy these products in India as well. But there are also some who tell me that the smaller towns is where the action is – will get a lot more business from here compared to the metros. What we want to do is really learn the market and try and force our products based on the kind of price point that the Indian consumer wants. As we go forward, we would want to cater to the needs of the mass market as well.

 

This space does have its share of players although they may not be operating in as organised a way as you do…

There are other players but they may be insignificant or small. I do not think there is anyone who is doing it the way we are doing it which is an all-clean website…we are there in the media, have a clear shipping and return policy, well-represented international brands so one can be assured that the products will be safe and premium of sound quality.

 

What are the promotional activities being undertaken to promote your venture?

Social media is huge today and cannot be ignored. Our business model is a lot to do with PR, social media, etc and has a lot to do with educating the audiences about these products, the hygiene aspects, how they can be beneficial etc. As pioneers we want to set high standards in whatever we do.

 

What are the challenges that a business such as your may encounter going forward?

There are business challenges and there are learning challenges. The learning challenges are more important where we are pioneering this offering in the market and we are sure of what the Indian market wants in terms of products, pricing and other options. We are also learning facts from the Indian market like the fact that Indians do like products in sachets unlike the western markets where they prefer buying them in the open. So these are some of the things that we are picking up and will keep doing so as we go forward.

 

Do you fear facing opposition from society and anti-social elements?

We do not think we are doing anything wrong and feel that we are on the right side of the law. We feel we are helping the society evolve. So we do not expect a backlash as we do not think we are harming anybody.

 

On a light note, did you face any resistance from your family when they learnt of your entrepreneurial plans?

Not really. I was quite surprised that my family was far more open to what I was doing than I was. As I’d said earlier, we would be offering personal products to customers. We are looking at adding other personal products in the category of nutrition/dietary, beauty bath etc. Our feeling is that the privacy aspect of people is very under-served in this country. That is a need we are seeking to fulfil. But while we plan to broaden our base, we do not want to be seen as an adult shop; it’ll more of fulfilling one’s privacy needs.

 

What is the way forward for your venture?

We are looking at significant hyper growth in this business. We have laid out a strong strategy for the next 48 months and are excited to have started our journey in this space.

“It was a highly embarrassing experience even for me,” says Sunil, a techie who didn’t wish to disclose this surname – he had gone to the same market a few months ago to check out an “arousal cream” his wife had demanded to celebrate their wedding anniversary. “The whole atmosphere was hostile. I got the cream, but wasn’t sure of the quality and ended up not using it at all,” he adds.

 

Some others we spoke to said “it is always a depressing hunt”. A Mumbai-based 25-year-old entrepreneur says he organised a BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) party at home – inspired by EL James’s bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey – with products bought while on a tour of London. “Forget dildos and vibrators, even buying a few sensual creams can get embarrassing,” he says, requesting anonymity. BDSM is an umbrella term for a consenting adult relationship that involves domination and submission.

 

A 42-year-old Mumbai-based techie says she’s ready to go through the embarrassment of being chuckled at by peddlers, like those “crazy” ones she met some time ago in Mumbai’s Manish Market, if only she is sure of the quality of the product. She wants to buy lipsticks that tingle and body oils. “Almost everyone I know has either bought it overseas or wants to use it,” she says, asking not to be named.

 

Opportunity Strikes

Samir Saraiya, who quit as lead, business development, Microsoft Singapore, last year to pursue personal interests, saw a business opportunity in the statement that “everyone wants to use it” – most of his friends also said the same thing. A brief enquiry in the local markets of Mumbai and a survey of the Indian adult products market convinced him to take the plunge: to launch an online shop to sell products that don’t invite punishment for obscenity.

 

He got in touch with global brands such as American lingerie brand Shirley of Hollywood and other companies that sell sex products like Pjur (Germany), Wet (US), Shunga (Canada), Elegant Moments (US), Male Basics (US), Premium Bodywear (Germany) and so on to negotiate an exclusive agreement to sell their products in India through his website, thatspersonal.com (reported in ET on January 12). By then, Mr Saraiya, who is also the CEO of Digital E-Life which runs the site, had in place a team of co-founders and investors – all senior corporate executives impressed with the idea.

 

Mr Saraiya’s research pegs the adult products industry in the country to be in the range of Rs 1,200-1,500 crore. He expects the industry to grow to Rs 2,450 crore in 2016 and Rs 8,700 crore in 2020, spurred by a rise in the number of people who want to spice up their sex lives. Other co-founders and investors in the new venture are Neville Taraporewalla, senior director, emerging markets, Microsoft India; Jaspreet Bindra, formerly regional director, retail, entertainment and devices, Microsoft India; Vikram Varma, head of internet solutions firm Digital Driftwood; Abhay Bhalerao of Amrut Software Ltd; and internet lawyer Lekhesh Dholakia.

 

Last-Mile Connect

Mr Taraporewalla, who was earlier director and country general manager at Yahoo! India and Mr Saraiya’s one-time mentor, says he is impressed by the team – it includes people with domain expertise in online marketing and an internet lawyer who could factor in the legal hurdles (see Legal Issues) while choosing products for sale.

 

After sealing pacts with well-known international brands to exclusively sell their brands in the local market for three years, Mr Saraiya wants to offer a USP that online shops of sex toys overseas- like imbesharam, which has been endorsed by Canadian porn star Sunny Leone who has made a foray into Bollywood – might not be able to match.

 

So he has tied up with logistics services firm Aramex International to ensure that customers can collect the products at locations of their choice. Which means a couple residing with their parents can collect the “tamper-proof, unmarked package” either from an Aramex office or from a location that they have specified in the application. “We innovated on the e-com delivery model to give our customers the ability to control the last-mile logistics,” says Mr Saraiya.

 

The 41-year-old CEO says he has made his employees sign bonds to keep the names of the customers secret to prevent any misuse. “The case could be more sensitive if some of the customers are celebs such as Bollywood stars,” he says. Currently the payments are to be made online through a credit card, debit card, or net banking. Mr Saraiya says he plans to introduce cash-on-delivery services.

 

Legal Clarity, Culture

Like many others we spoke to, Mr Saraiya and his team regret that the laws in the country have not kept pace with the changing needs and preferences of people. Says Mr Dholakia: “This is not the case in developed western countries where they have recognised that with changing preferences the laws also need to change, which rationalises the legal effect on such altered patterns of behaviour in society.”

 

Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti, andrologist and sexual medicine consultant, argues that while most Indians are not yet ready for experimentation in matters related to sex, over the years such practices have become prevalent among some consenting adults. “I view this trend [of people using adult products] as inevitable… all these trends [such as BDSM parties] you observe now have been merely waiting to burst out of the closet and come into the open. The main trigger for all this is time, and the moment,” he says. “That time has come,” he adds. Maybe it has.

 

Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2013, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Legal Issue

 

UNCLEAR: Laws in India are silent on sale of sex toys and erotic apparels. According to internet lawyer Lekhesh Dholakia, the concern arises more from the manner in which these sex toys/ apparel and related products are displayed and exhibited for sale. Since in most cases these items carry graphic, pictorial descriptions, which could be perceived as being obscene, they could attract the provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Information Technology Act, 2000 (for internet sales).

 

OBSCENITY: Although neither the IPC nor the IT Act defines what obscenity is, Section 292 of the IPC and Section 67 of the IT Act (which corresponds to Section 292 of the IPC) explain “obscenity” to mean anything that is lascivious – or if its effect is to “deprave” and “corrupt” people.

 

PENALTY: According to Section 292, whoever sells, allows to hire, distributes, publicly exhibits, makes, or has in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever, or advertises, or makes known by any means whatsoever that any such obscene object can be procured from or through any person, is punishable with imprisonment and fine.

 

PRECAUTION: Therefore, obscenity is an offence if it falls within the purview of Section 292. Certain sex toys/articles that “carry the impression” of being “obscene”, may risk punishment. The ones thatspersonal.com sells can’t be classified as obscene, says Mr Dholakia.

 

Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2013, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

 

 

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6 responses to “For Adults Only… now in India!”

  1. PRIYANKA roy says:

    HotSexToyIndia is a best online sex toy store.You can get cheapest adult

  2. ast says:

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  3. Ajeet D says:

    India is moving forward, I dont think its a bad move..these people are just making things avialable for the personal use of the individual. And i think will be the next big thing in India.

  4. Khaleel says:

    It could do more destruction than Pleasure

  5. Netkot says:

    It was bound to happen sooner than later. It is a bold move but the climate and the current speak of the nation may remain hostile towards such ventures

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