Nov 022014
 
Amazon Warehouse (image courtesy of theguardian.com) - Why Buying Sex Toys from Amazon is a Risky Gamble

Amazon Warehouse (image courtesy of theguardian.com)

People sure do like to buy sex toys from Amazon and it is troubling to me. Not quite as troublesome in my world as toxic toys, but nearly so. A lot of people are more comfortable buying their sex toys from Amazon than a sex toy retailer, because they feel certain that it will be more discreet – they know that anything “sold by Amazon” will come in an Amazon box and an Amazon mailing address. And most of the time, Amazon is cheaper…and to detriment of the reputable sex toy shops, too.  Many of the higher-end manufacturers put a limit on how low their items can be sold, and Amazon sellers often completely ignore this. Either they are just shady people or…..they’re counterfeit.  In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had more people report problems ordering from Amazon than any other sex toy problems combined. I’ve had readers tell me, even as far back as 4 years ago, that they bought a “luxury” vibrator and something went wrong after a month or two. They took their problem to the manufacturer because it has a warranty, and they found out it wasn’t the brand they thought they were buying and the company wouldn’t honor a warranty claim. Rightfully so; it’s not their product. The counterfeit sex toy market is bigger than you think and it’s found a nice home at Amazon (and Ebay).

So Which Brands Are Suspect?

While this is by NO means a complete list, and I’d be suspect of just about anything, the specific brands I’ve heard of are: Lelo, Fun Factory, We-VibeFleshlights, Tenga, Fairy Wands by Merci Toys, Magic Wand.  Njoy is probably the most copied brand I know of. Multiple times a month I am contacted by shady companies in Hong Kong, Pakistan and India, who specialize in metal sex toys. They often go so far as to use Njoy product photos. The prices are super low, and there’s no way it could be an Njoy product, much less made of medical grade stainless steel, for that low price (in the ballpark of 15% of the cost of an Njoy).  One shady seller on Amazon was including free Fun Factory Smartballs that were counterfeits….and not even made of silicone as was found out from a flame test. Other products that I would be wary of: low-priced metal toys that claim to be stainless steel. I’ve heard some really bad things about a crystal-ended metal plug that is selling for around $20.  I would absolutely be suspect of glass sex toys sold on Amazon, as I personally experienced what can happen (see update from 2015 below).  Further issues abound with BDSM items (which are outside my realm of expertise) as well as specialty items like chastity cages:

 Another brand that can be suspect is Tantus. It was officially noted to affiliates “in regards to Amazon & Ebay, we don’t sell directly to anyone that has an Amazon/Ebay store. Tantus does NOT guarantee the origin, product quality, or authenticity of ‘Tantus’ items purchased off of these sites.”

Could They Re-Sell a Used Sex Toy?

This part is just a theory but there’s another issue with third-party sellers that isn’t brought up much in discussions about Amazon – the returned sex toys. I’ve always felt pretty confident that there’s little to worry about when the major retailers who allow returns of sex toys (despite a few dramatic claims at the height of other issues with EF). Lovehoney and EdenFantasys both allow it. While Lovehoney is certainly bigger and more global, EdenFantasys used to hold its own quite well as a go-to retailer in its day. Logistically speaking, why would they risk their reputation and company on re-selling a returned (used or defective) sex toy? All it would take would be for one person to report it to the authorities and the doors would be shut. But with an Amazon third-party seller who doesn’t use Fulfillment By Amazon, a person could send back a toy and an unscrupulous seller could re-sell it. I’ve seen third-party sellers who do accept returns if it is “unused and unopened” but unless it’s been shrink-wrapped it’s not that hard to carefully open a box and make it look like it was never opened. On Twitter after this post was first published, this was said and very relevant:

Updated for 2016: Cosmo recently interviewed a person who has done a metric fuck ton of reviews on Amazon. This person is sent product from Amazon sellers; not Amazon directly. She noted that she has had products arrive “destroyed” or “be dirty like someone’s used them already”. This does not sound good!

The Amazon Shuffle – The New Shell Game?

Are all sex toys from Amazon possibly a counterfeit? Of course not. But the risk for getting one is high enough that I don’t feel that people should take the gamble. Many people have no idea that they even got a counterfeit some of the time, especially until it breaks.  Many think it’s okay to buy the item if it is listed as being “Sold by Amazon LLC”.  Here’s how it works: In the Amazon Warehouses, to save space, every We-Vibe Tango (as an example) goes into the same warehouse bin. Every seller who is storing their goods at Amazon for Amazon to ship has to give their item a UPC or Item Code or something. Everything with the same item code all goes in the same bin. They don’t have room to store every seller’s We-Vibe Tango in a different space. So now, whenever you buy a We-Vibe Tango someone at Amazon is grabbing from the communal bin. Since Amazon has many warehouses across the country, they’ll also ship your item from the warehouse closest to you that stocks the item. This means it’s not necessarily going to be the stock of the retailer you chose to buy from and there’s no control over that, either. You could be ordering from a reputable retailer on Amazon and still get the stock from a shady retailer.  The ONLY way you’re not taking a risk is if the item is being sold by AND shipped by a reputable retailer or manufacturer – of which there are very few on Amazon. And then, because it’s coming from the retailer/manufacturer and not Amazon, there goes all your assumed discretion in shipping and the possibility of “Prime” shipping. So what’s the point?

Update for 2015: For two distinct purposes, I purposely purchased sex toys from Amazon. One purpose was to determine what some of these Chinese vendors actually meant when they were calling a product “medical grade silica gel”, which meant I bought some items with dubious material declarations. Spoiler alert: it’s a crapshoot on whether you’ll get silicone (a material actually used for sex toys, whereas silica gel is not) or something…else. The second purpose was for my glass sex toy test. I purchased two that were listed as a branded item. Both came in identical packaging – which to say, it wasn’t manufacturer packaging. Both were purchased from different sellers. One I was able to confirm easily as a counterfeit, by being sent the actual branded item from SheVibe.

Is it Just Amazon?

No. While other sites don’t work the same way, there’s still a huge huge risk of the game ending badly if you buy from Ebay. If you find discount sites that look too good to be true….they probably are. Aliexpress.com is one such site.  Groupon has become another. I’ve been alerted to mislabeled sex toys on Groupon numerous times. Please just don’t buy sex toys from Groupon, either.

Stay Safe, Ask a Sex Blogger

So what would you rather do? Save ten or twenty bucks and take a big gamble on buying sex toys from Amazon or deal with a sex toy retailer that is vetted by your hardworking sex toy review bloggers, and is a company that actually cares about you? By buying from the companies we bloggers work with, you’re supporting the Good Guys in the industry. By using us bloggers as a sounding board before you spend your money, you could actually save money by listening to our advice in our reviews. I advise many people one-on-one on their purchase before they buy (email, Tumblr or Reddit). I’ve had too many people come to me AFTER their purchase, saying that they wished they’d seen my review before wasting their money and there went $100+ down the drain. Read all the reviews, email your favorite bloggers. Ask their opinion. And then, when you’ve decided, wait a little bit. Keep an eye on the sales. Tantus, for example, has a different sale every month. SheVibe has different sales every week. And don’t just take the word of one blogger. 

BOTTOM LINE: I’m such a huge advocate of safe, non-porous sex toys; I want every aspect of your sex toy buying and using experience to be as safe as possible. I can’t promise your safety if you buy sex toys from Amazon and Ebay.

When you CAN shop at Amazon

There’s really only three sexuality items you can safely purchase from Amazon, in my opinion. As always, do your research first! 

  1. Educational sex books / erotica books
  2. Condoms
  3. Lube, only after you’ve read up on which lubes & lube ingredients to avoid!

Where to Shop

If you’ve been here before, you probably know my most highly-recommended store is SheVibe.  My reasons are many and varied, but here’s the highlights: their stock is neither too specialized or too excessive. They don’t stock known-toxic toys. They educate their customers on the porous toys. The company is run by people who love what they do and who treat everyone – customers to industry people – with kindness and respect. Their prices are great, and they have many sales. They have a large and varied stock without trying to carry every product under the sun. They are often champions for smaller, indy brands like Fucking Sculptures, and are open to suggestions. Nearly everything under the sun that I could ever recommend for purchase, SheVibe carries. I can’t say that about any other store on my list.

I don’t often recommend buying directly from a manufacturer, but there are two that I’ll break that rule for:

Tantus is great, and every month has a really great sale (no sale you like? Coupon code LILLY gets you 15% off). Between their closeout section and grab bag section, you’re bound to find a safe, silicone dildo to fit your budget. And their customer service is great. Problem with your order? They’ll take care of it. Currently their shipping is a bit high though and can be a deterrent for small orders – although they do offer free shipping in the US if you spend $100. 

Crystal Delights is another wonderful manufacturer of truly high-quality glass items. Their specialty is glass plugs with Swarovski crystals at the end. They also make tail plugs and glass dildos. 

Other retailers I can recommend:

Early to Bed is a Chicago-based shop with an online presence. They have a great selection of items for trans and genderqueer people; however they have a habit re-naming the sex toys they carry. This makes it hard to locate a particular sex toy if you know it by brand and style name.

Smitten Kitten is a Minneapolis-based shop with an online presence. They have a great selection of kitschy and cute gifts, they carry an extended line of BS Atelier products, they’re the only shop I know of right now carrying Hole Punch toys, and they are the brains behind the Lube Guide and every starting point I’ve had for toxic toy research. Their educational book section is absolutely fabulous.

Goodvibes is a long-time shop with an online presence as well as a few brick stores in the US. They don’t carry anything toxic, but do carry some porous items. Their overall catalog tends to be slim and I have numerous favorites that they don’t carry. They also sometimes re-name toy, but more often I’ll find them stripping the manufacturer’s name from the lower-end stuff – since I try to avoid recommending certain brands, I’m not a fan of this practice. Their prices are not as good as SheVibe. They do have a decent on-demand porn store, though.

Come As You Are is a nice little Toronto-based cooperative shop with an online presence. They’re one of the few better stores that do carry a few toxic items – in fact the first few things that come up in their dildo section seem to have phthalates. However, they’re one of the few places that carry a silicone vaginal dilator set with the dilator sizes ranging from 1/2″ wide to 1 1/2″ wide and you can buy the sizes separately. Their prices seem to be good and they also have a great selection of items for trans and genderqueer people. They do have educational material on the site, but continue to (as most places do) insist that condoms will absolutely protect against phthalates (it’s not actually been proven true, nor has it been proven false).

I’ve never experienced them personally, but a number of Canadian friends spoke well of the shipping, prices and customer service at Lovedreamer. They seem to carry a fair amount of crap, but also have a good amount of sales going. Do your research before picking something out.

Lovehoney has bases in the US, UK, Australia. On the plus side, they have a 365-day return policy if you hate it. On the other hand, they carry a large amount of porous stuff without educating consumers about it and their prices are not as good as SheVibe. Stick to silicone (if in doubt, ask) and the other safe materials. Even if they call it “body safe”, if it’s not a non-porous, I’d avoid it.

Other places that are fine, I just don’t work with them: Babeland is best if you are at a brick store. Online their selection is kinda meh. UK shoppers can also check out ThatPosition or Vibrator Kingdom. Canadians, check out Pinkcherry. Australians, I’ve heard MissX and AdultSpice are good.

  • Thanks for this. I’ll admit we talked to Amazon at one point about selling there (if ya can’t beat ’em..) but the rep I talked to advised me to IGNORE MAP (min. advertised price) agreements that I had signed. So you know to basically be as shady as they are in order to sell via Amazon. That was the end of that discussion and my ever buying anything from them again.

  • Jordan

    There’s definitely issues with counterfeit chastity cages (hey, you mentioned them!), aside from the obvious lesser quality material, worse design and the fact most of the plastic (cbxx line) ones will break.

    One cage I purchased around 9 months back had a sound (metal rod that’s inserted into the penis) on it – I ended up having a reaction to whatever crap that was made out of. And having a reaction to something like that inside your penis? Few days of agony followed by a week of itching – not fun. And this was from a page with a ton of positive reviews, nothing negative; considering I don’t have any allergic reactions (that I’m aware of) aside from whatever was in that metal it seems I got it from another manufacturer. The other cages just weren’t right – I’ve compared them to legitimate products (and yes, worn both the real and fakes) and you can simply tell the counterfeits a mile away; they pinch in places they shouldn’t, the pieces don’t fit together neatly and often wobble and the welds aren’t as clean. And jagged welds near your dick aren’t fun.

  • That is scary..and makes the perfect argument for the risks. Sorry that you had to experience that.

  • Thank you for this! Last year I kept seeing a fellow blogger boasting about the “great deals” she had gotten on “luxury” toys on Amazon and it made me want to peel my face off. People have no idea that what they’re getting their is not what they’d be getting from a good sex shop or that getting those “great deals” puts reputable shops in a horrible position.

  • Yes, I’ve seen a few saying this as well. I still have to correct a few for saying that silicone toys shouldn’t touch, so while I’m weary of this, I’m not surprised.

  • I hate rubber/jelly type toys, I’m all for body safe! I’m up for buying
    things like cuffs, nipple clamps, restraints etc but when it comes to
    actual sex toys, i’ll always go for a reliable sex toy retailer. Least
    you know what you are getting is real

  • As others noted it’s not just the vibrators and dildos, I wouldn’t trust anything kink either. If quality matters on these, then Amazon should be avoided. Plenty of cheap, lookalikes!

  • I only buy from accounts that are related to a site. I think it’s ebay I go to, can’t remember as it’s been such a long time :( But I agree, you don’t know what you are getting, unless you go through the website. It’s like anything really, if you want the original options, the quality and guarantee, then go through the retailer. The only thing I use amazon for is buying erotica or coffee pods lol you make very valid points x

  • Thanks for writing this Lilly. Whenever people ask about buying sex toys through Amazon, I’ll definitely point them to this post!

  • Great post, Lilly – I’ve never bought from Amazon before, but now I definitely never will! That sounds super sketchy :/

    I prefer to work with and buy from SheVibe when I cover sex toys, but I can vouch for Come As You Are and Pinkcherry (CA) as a consumer. The staff and newsletter at CAYA are fantastic, and the prices at Pinkcherry are really good — often better than Amazon unless it’s a brand with strict sale rules. Pinkcherry are also great about replacing defective toys (ahem, LELO) despite their seedy-looking website, and I’ve always found their email CS reps to be helpful and friendly!

    Which, again. Surprising, because their site looks like it’s run by a pervy wholesaler or something. :P

  • Great post! Doris Nyx is an Australian online retailer for adult products and we carefully select our toys to make sure that they are non toxic and overall are good quality products. We want our customers to focus on the fun in using the products and not worry about the quality. We purchase directly from the manufacturer or official distributor to ensure that our products are authentic. From a customers perspective we often have to compete with “cheaper” products that are sold on Amazon, thinking they are buying from a reputable source (aka Amazon) and not knowing that the products are not authentic by default.

    Your posts and information about Amazon, toxic and porous toys are awesome! Thank you for educating the market and providing these valuable insights.

    For great adult products in Australia check out http://www.dorisnyx.com.au

  • I’ve actually purchased sex toys from Amazon but yeaaars ago when Babeland was still a vendor with them. Yep!

  • K

    Crap, I have two toys from Amazon that I bought before thought more about how I wanted to support the great sex shops out there… The rest of my toys are from reputable retailers. Those two toys seem completely fine, they came in the right packaging and the seller had 98-99% positive feedback, I can’t remember exactly. Still, now I feel really anxious. I don’t want to flame test them, because I’m pretty sure they are the real deal. Argh. *fret fret, this is karma for doing business with Amazon I guess*

  • Well, remember that it’s not EVERY toy, so you could be perfectly fine. Many people have bought a toy and been just fine. It’s the risk of it not turning out fine that I feel is too high.

  • As I explained above…..it’s how they store the items in the warehouse. If NO ONE ELSE is selling an item except for Amazon themselves, then it should be okay. Might be. Amazon takes all the items from all the 3rd party sellers and puts all (example) Lelo Mona 2 Reds in the same bin. All of them, even the ones from Amazon as the seller. So if there’s one or two third-party sellers who h ave counterfeit or used models, it’s now a ball pit of toys and its anyones guess which you’ll get.

  • SM

    Apologies, not sure how I missed that. Appreciate you taking the time to repeat.

  • House of Eros

    There is a simple answer ..you get what you pay for …cheap prices equals no quality why not try supporting manufacturers who actually care about what they make and not those who peddle rip off copies or to be blunt ….Crap…………….quality costs why not try buying quality and stop expecting something for nothing.

  • Avera

    Are there any criteria how to tell genuine sex toys apart from counterfeit ones? Of course I can look for a suspiciously low price, but are there any other ways of spotting the difference? Maybe there are some resources with hand by hand comparisons showing a genuine toy and a counterfeit of the same model?

    I am asking because I live in a small European country with only a few sex toy stores. And none of these stores has a good reputation. And buying sex toys online from UK and having them shipped across the whole continent does not seem like such a good idea (especially when it comes to warranty issues).

  • No there’s not, because they often are using the photo from the manufacturer, so you wouldn’t be able to tell prior to purchase.

    And as for receiving it in hand again, no. I’ve never had anyone send me such photo, I’ve not seen anything except comparisons of fake vs real Magic Wands.

  • Carrie

    A year ago I bought what I thought was a Lelo vibrator and after I had it 3 months it broke. I was so excited for it that I didn’t pay attention to the outer box and threw it away. The inside black box didn’t have any wording on it and from seeing photos in reviews I think it’s supposed to say LELO on it. Anyway I talked to Lelo about getting a warranty replacement and long story short what I had wasn’t a Lelo.

    I started working in a decent sex toy store in July. Since then I’ve talked to two customers who bought sex toys from Amazon and they ended up being fakes or misrepresented. One lady said she thought it was a Tantus dildo but what she received only looked like Tantus and it smelled awful!

  • I just wanted to share a comment that came in to my email, but I thought it should be part of the conversation here, too:

    “Thanks for writing about Sil-A-Gel (PVC really) sex toys
    made by Doc Johnson. I got one and it smelled of vinyl and was just a
    terrible product. I had it only a few days and threw it away after
    reading your blog. The seller (on Amazon) didn’t
    state that the item (a dildo) was made of PVC (it might as well have
    been made from toxic waste). Yuk. Oh, well, live and learn. Thanks
    for your blog. It is very interesting and you give good information.”

  • kelly

    well i was not aware baby of this. thanks for the useful information. check out the link below.

    http://www.kinkycroc.com.au

  • FieryRed

    I have seen some obvious Lelo knock-offs on Amazon – these were not listed as Lelo, but they looked exactly like several Lelo models, minus the brand name embossing. I also recently saw some clear-piece-of-jelly-crap double dildo on Ebay listed as a Tantus Feeldoe and using their verbiage. I notified Tantus, but ugh…I’m sure someone bought it thinking it was legit. These shady sellers just have no shame.

  • Clara

    Nice post. Last month I bought my first dildo, the Tantus Acute, off of Amazon. I didn’t know any better; I *thought* I’d done my research. It definitely doesn’t look cheap and the packaging looked legit enough; no smell and I’ve boiled it several times. Now I wish I had saved the packaging to take a second look, but I quickly threw it out for fear of my dear ol’ mum seeing any evidence of my purchase on one of her random visits. Better late than never though — I was planning on ordering several more toys towards the end of the month but instead I’ll just order the one straight from Tantus instead (I’ve been dying to try out their grab bag anyway).

    Do you have an opinion on reviewing toys on Amazon? Do you think that encourages people to purchase from Amazon? I mean, I suppose it would, but do you think people would heed a “but don’t order from Amazon” note on the review, and do you think that might help spread the word? Honestly, before reading this review I didn’t know how Amazon warehousing worked. Helpful info all around, thank you!

  • Nicole

    So I am thinking about purchasing a dildo from Amazon and its from Eden Pleasure Products it’s a life like 6″ suction cup dildo do you think I should go ahead and get it or should I wait?

  • Honestly, I don’t know how else to say that I can’t ever recommend sex toys from Amazon. I don’t know the brand you’re considering, but I can’t, and won’t, recommend Amazon.

  • Despite PC having decent site-wide sales, I’ve found that Come As You Are who I listed, has pretty good prices on things. They may not carry the FULL range of Tantus but they have a great selection. Unfortunately SheVibe is hard to beat even internationally.

  • I cannot recommend Adam & Eve, and I don’t know anything about AdamMale. I can only really recommend fully the places I’ve mentioned in the post.

    Slightly sticky and black stuff is still okay for silicone. You didn’t get ash because you didn’t get a burn (would have to glow orange) and it didn’t flame easily so it’s likely silicone.

  • G Johnson

    We approached amazon to sell our adult products and they said as they are selling them its a no but reading this and customers telling us horror stories from buying from amazon i do honestly think people are a lot safer purchasing adult products direct from people who specialise in this field like our selves at adultshopit or lovehoney or the famous ann summers, and theres bondara as well

  • brainhurt_and_fear

    I can see how a counterfeit condom would be difficult to fake, but counterfeit lube would be easy–just mock up bottles with stickers and fill them with clear, slippery gunk. When you tell us lube is Amazon-safe, what factors do you consider? What stops counterfeit labels or a shady distro from lying?

    I hate that we still have no proof whether or not condoms shield phthalates. Like we can’t smell them (and/or other chemicals) leeching through.

  • The brands I recommend come with “freshness” seals, i.e. take the cap off, peel the foil back, etc. What’s to stop someone from counterfeiting everything from the bottles to the labels to the seals and filling them with something that’s NOT Sliquid, for example? I’ll look into it.

    I don’t think that we should ever assume that condoms can protect against phthalates or other toxic things that may be in sex toys of dubious material, especially if you’re using a latex condom. Even with the proper condom type for the crappy materials (polyurethane) I don’t feel comfortable making a promise. This idea was probably started with a wing and a prayer, a way to get people okay with continuing to use cheap, crappy materials.

  • C Garner

    This is actually very disheartening for me. I’m an Ebay seller, new to selling in the adult arena. I formerly sold sorority and fraternity items, and I started this new venture the same way–I signed on with distributors and I sell authentic products. A lot of manufacturers warn that I can’t sell their stuff, and it’s too bad because I would not misrepresent their products. I compete all the time with fakes, and it is extremely hard to sell the real thing for $80 beside the fake for $20.

    The result is I have to sell the real one for hardly any profit, or I can’t sell it at all because the fakes have priced the real ones out of the market. But you will run into this at any store. Any sex store can order up fakes from China. I’m hoping the bigger they are, the less likely it is, but you don’t know.

    If you suspect the price is too good to be true, read the feedback. Google item with fake or counterfeit in the search. Search for it for results on chinese wholesale sites. Look at pictures of other items in the sellers store or listings. If some of those pictures look like they come from Chinese websites….well….that might be a hint…

  • maverickuv

    Please, can someone let us know, what about buying from drugstores (online website) like Walgreens and CVS??