Holiday sales have increased 15% year over year for custom-printing retailer Spreadshirt, which attributes its growth to a bump in organic search traffic and lower, promotional prices early in the season.

At this point in the holiday shopping season, Spreadshirt’s production facilities are at capacity.

Holiday sales for the print-on-demand, web-only merchant of apparel are up 15% compared with Nov. 1-Dec. 12 last year, says Hugo Smoter, chief commercial officer of Spreadshirt.

Smoter attributes the increase to a few factors:  A 75% to 100% increase in traffic to Spreadshirt.com from organic search, as well as Spreadshirt reducing its printing prices in North America by 20%.

By reducing its prices early in the season on certain products, Spreadshirt was able to generate more sales, Smoter says.

“There is competitor pressure to get the customer, more than usual,” he says, noting that this is likely because Amazon now offers custom-made shirts.

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“I have a feeling [Amazon is] squeezing our industry. In order to meet our goals, there are more discounts throughout the year,” Smoter says.

Overall, however, Spreadshirt tries not to offer too deep of a discount to protect its profit margin, Smoter says. For example, this year Thanksgiving through the Sunday after (Nov. 23-26), Spreadshirt offered 20% off all products on its site, with some products 40% off. On Cyber Monday and the Tuesday after, everything was 25% off, he says.

In terms of its SEO bump, Smoter attributes the increase in traffic via organic search to a Google’s algorithm change in May. The update did not have an official name, however, Smoter believes the update was about general site quality. Spreadshirt.com shifted to responsive web design, which means the site formats to the size of the screen the consumer views it on, from a separate mobile site. Spreadshirt designed the site with a mobile screen in mind and then scaled it up from there.

“We’ve invested in our mobile experience and we were really rewarded with this update,” Smoter says.

For example, based on the Sistrix visibility index, which calculates a reference number for a domain’s visibility in Google’s search result pages, Spreadshirt’s SEO visibility score increased to 4,500 from 1,100, Hugo says. This score factors in how a retailer ranks given the number of searches for its non-branded keyword. For example, the visibility score would be higher if the retailer ranked No. 3 for a popular term, such as “custom T-shirt,” compared with ranking No. 1 for a less-popular term like “sheep hoodie.”

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More organic search traffic this year means more traffic for free rather than paying for it, he says. “As the percent shifts toward free, profitability is naturally increasing,” Smoter says.

While Smoter wishes Spreadshirt’s year-over-year sales increase was even higher than 15%, he does note that his production facilities are full and more profitable. In the past year, Spreadshirt has shifted its printing technology to be 80% machine automated and 20% human-operated compared with an even split previously.

The change required $1.4 million investment in machinery, however the retailer’s output is 30% higher and thus is a more profitable long term. Spreadshirt has five global facilities, two of which are in the U.S.

Because Spreadshirt is a print-on-demand retailer, it has a cap on how much it can produce at a time. Because the retailer is operating at full capacity, it is reducing its marketing budget and increasing its prices to help slow order volume and increase profits, Hugo says.

For Spreadshirt, holiday sales are quickly wrapping up, as Dec. 15 is the last date for shoppers to choose standard shipping for $5.99 and receive the product in time for Christmas. Its deadline for premium shipping ($11.99) is Dec. 18, and after that date, Spreadshirt experiences a significant decline in order volume, as express shipping costs $29.99, and that deadline is Dec. 21.

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Spreadshirt tries to make it’s shipping cutoffs as clear as possible. The banner item on Spreadshirt.com alerts shoppers to “Order Now to get your gifts by Christmas” and links to a shipping estimator. The product detail page also estimates the delivery date, as does the shopping cart page.

By Dec. 21, Spreadshirt has a backlog of orders to churn through and turn out by Christmas. To ensure the retailer has orders to process after Dec. 25, Spreadshirt launches a large sale on Dec. 21, Smoter says.

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