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e-Commerce, Wellness
November 20, 2012 | 0 Comments

Poke: Building a sex-toy empire on China’s Weibo

Ma Jiajia and a friend.

Ma Jiajia and a friend.

China’s students have been at the forefront of various revolutionary movements, rallying for and against foreign ideologies and scolding their compatriots for taking too few or too many liberties. When it comes to the country’s current sexual revolution, students contributed a fair share of the action but so far failed to provide intelectual leadership. But things are starting to change: Over the past few weeks, a young lady of 22 has risen to social media fame, providing online guidance and opinion on all things sexual. Unlike past revolutionaries, she is guided by mundane passions, trying to turn her tiny campus sex shop into a national e-Commerce empire. 

Ma Jiajia was barely a year old last time Chinese students tried to change China. Two decades later, she set up an adult accessory store next to the Communication University of China, where she studied until earlier this year. Hardly 20 square meters in size, Ma’s Powerful Sex Shop offers garden variety toys as well as cheeky gifts and accessories with a figurative or literal twist . This includes condom packs that are actually chocolate bars (and vice versa), innocent household items that are actually adult accessories (…and vice versa), and an incredible set of invisible stickers that perk up ones breasts. China has more than 200,000 sex shops, but most of them are featureless in decoration and uninspiring in service. Powerful, on the other hand, has a bright and trendy facade and its shopkeepers are talkative and use humor in a way that encourages buyers to share their needs and ask questions.

Based on feedback from its initial student clientele, Ma figured the Powerful style could appeal to a larger audience. The store’s national expansion relies on a two-pronged strategy, operating an online store on Taobao and using social media to position Ma as a China’s sex doyen. Ma uses her Weibo feedDouban channel, WeChat messenger, and other online profiles to share anything from comical masturbation advice through musings about the virtues of lingerie to random rants about her grandparents’s attitude towards sex. She already has more than 50,000 followers on Weibo, China’s twitter, and the number is growing fast. According to local media reports, her fans send her more than 4,000 messages a day with requests for advice or stories they would like to share.

Powerful’s turnover is still modest, but two thirds of overall sales already originate online. China’s “sexual health” market reached a total of RMB 120 billion in 2011, with about 60% spent on toys, 20% on apparel, and the remainder on personal care products and services (here, in Chinese). Apart from Taobao, other popular online channels include X.com.cn, iKuanGan.com, Panduola.com, and Oyeah.com.cn. The latter’s male boss is also a social media enthusiast, with more than 80,000 Weibo fans, and an online sit-com that revolves around various adult themes.

China witnessed the first wave of female sex bloggers in the early naughties (00s), but it was not translated into commercial success. The Weibo profiles of celebrities from that era, such as Muzi Mei and Furong Jiejie, are still followed by millions. This indicates Ma Jiajia’s Powerful venture has plenty of room to grow. Once again, a young student is in a position to help China open up, and rise.

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