Hewson’s history as market analysts pre 2009 was predominantly in the Customer Management area. The company became – through research and publications – probably the most influential CRM analysts in Europe. Reports such as Emerging Information Technologies- A Marketing Opportunity (Hewson W; Malcolm McDonald; Hugh Wilson) had a profound influence on corporate thinking. Hewson therefore had direct experience and involvement a classic emerging market with a supplyside that went from innovator companies to IT giants and hence to the biggest business application of all time (Gartner).
We also established Thought Leadership platforms with organisations like Experian and Price WaterhouseCoopers and as the market matured we carried out much M&A work, Investment advisory and portfolio rationalisation.
The Women Sex and Shopping Project
If the Consumer Economy had a Sex it would be Female: Bloomberg
Women Sex and Shopping (WSS) was launched in 2009 as a specific report looking at the market in sexually related goods for women. It soon became apparent that there was a very significant and wholly misunderstood consumer market in being. The analysis that Hewson was able to make in both Northern Europe and North America, pointed to over 50% of sexually active women making use, to a greater or lesser extent, of sexual products (mainly sex toys, lubricants and erotica). This was not a niche market but a majority one.
What seemed apparent was that, in a sort of commercial inversion, women had determined extremely rapid market growth in sexual goods by electing to buy products that they wanted despite poor quality items, dysfunctional retail and and an almost total lack of marketing and advertising. This adoption showed a pragmatic intent that has many lessons. In the course of a generation, given the opportunity, women’s sexual and consumer behaviours changed radically.
The pragmatic success that we can identify masks a more uncomfortable reality. The sexual goods that matter to women only appeared (in a practical sense) late in the 20th Century. We can trace the antecedents of much of sex toy distribution and retail – to the old Porn and Vice operations – erotica too has a male-centric history. Lubricant, so important for the fast growing segment of older consumers, has quite a short and unhelpful background as a dysfunction product and is most often sold as such. Women in most Western Economies may have agency and they have shown that they will use this but they have a severely restricted choice in both products and retail. In other parts of the world they may have neither agency or choice – even an economy such as Italy is subject to a suffocating cultural inhibition in these matters.
The extreme dissonance between what female consumers actually want and how mainstream commerce recognises this is very compelling and almost certainly extends to sectors outside of sexuality per se. The lack of recognition, imagination and innovation in retail and marketing is disappointing. Two factors can be seen to be critical in influencing a better and more aligned future. Firstly, women need to be in far more senior positions in both marketing and advertising agencies as well as in creative positions generally. Secondly, there is an absolute requirement for better research; this is particularly so about sexuality and women’s sexual health but it also extends to the wider Female Economy and how it works – after all, the Female Consumer is the most powerful on Earth.
Women Sex and Shopping has now evolved to a widely based research based Project to promote recognition of the need for more insight and reliable analysis. The scope includes not just sexual goods and behaviours but the challenges (from a Female Consumer perspective) of Marketing and the Future of Retail as well as Technology based areas such as FemTech and CRM.
“The anti-aging market is making room for wellness and beauty products for female genitalia. Products are marketed as “intimate skincare,” with design, packaging and language codes borrowed from premium skincare brands—familiar and comfortable territory for generation X and millennial consumers.” J Walter Thompson Intelligence Trends and Change to watch in 2017