The polo retailer had its best sales day ever on Black Friday. This holiday season the retailer is working to increase profitability and cater to its mobile shoppers.

Smartphone shoppers, early shoppers and Product Listing Ads are making their mark on U.S. Polo Assn.’s 2017 holiday season.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, was U.S. Polo Assn.’s biggest e-commerce sales day ever, says Matt Debnar, vice president of e-commerce at U.S. Polo Assn. and Jordache.

Sales were up 10% year over year, which was at the top of the retailer’s goal of a 5%-10% sales increase for Black Friday, Debnar says.

Sales on Saturday (Nov. 25) were up 3% year over year and up 16% year over year on Sunday (Nov. 26). While 16% is big growth and 3% seems low, Debnar is not concerned about the variation. Outliers happen, he says, and the two days averaged together is about what he expected.

Overall, consumers started shopping earlier in November, particularly the week of Nov. 17, when sales were “comping very well to last year,” he says, declining to share specific details.

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“E-commerce is maturing,” Debnar says. “People are used to shopping online as their first choice rather than a second choice or their backup,” Debnar says. “Plus, retail stores are moving sales up earlier in November and talking holiday earlier and earlier.”

U.S. Polo Assn. is no different. It launched its Black Friday preview sale the week before Thanksgiving for its email subscribers and allowed them to access Black Friday promotions early with a code.

Google PLAs have generated “a great response” this holiday season, he says, noting that PLAs have generated the largest increase in return on ad spend of all of its marketing channels this year.

That success stems in part from the retailer working with digital marking firm Elite SEM to ensure that the product tags and metadata that it sends to Google meet the search giant’s specifications. For example, if the retailer listed a product color as “midnight,” the vendor would change it to “black” so Google could easily categorize it in search results because shoppers don’t type in “midnight polo” to Google, but rather “black polo.”

The retailer also used Google’s artificial intelligence tools this year for its PLAs. Here’s how it works: The retailer gives Google 25 to 30 of its keywords, its desired return on ad spend—which is $5 in sales for every $1 in ad spend—its budget and a time frame, Debnar says. Then Google runs the campaign and optimizes the bids and ads to reach that return on ad spend goal.

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The search giant has many different PLA formats that retailers can use. For example, some of the ads are vertical, horizontal, some have the product image on the left with the call to action on the right, some have a price crossed out, some feature a percentage-off deal and some have a dollars-off deal.

With artificial intelligence, Google will use a variety of these ads until it determines which ads have the best click-through rate and conversion rate. Google then automatically adjusts the ads to serve the best one, Debnar says. The retailer also is able to tweak this based on the times of day ads best convert, down to the hour range.

“We’ve kept our sales from paid search pretty much even while cutting spend,” Debnar says.

This helps with one of the retailer’s goals for the season, which is to increase profitability, Debnar says.

With that in mind, the retailer decided to keep its free shipping offers in a tight range. For example, over the Cyber 5 weekend (Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday), Debnar only offered free shipping on Black Friday and the following Saturday, compared with offering it all five days last year. The retailer is also testing to see if offering a free gift with purchase will increase sales and profitability.

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Throughout the Thanksgiving weekend and this holiday season, U.S. Polo had many mobile shoppers, he says. Smartphones drove the majority of the retailer’s traffic and are “approaching 40%” of U.S. Polo Assn.’s e-commerce sales, Debnar says.

To keep up with the increase mobile demand, in September it made sure its mobile site loaded in an acceptable amount of time. The retailer switched to Amazon Web Services to host its images, which is what Debnar attributes its its improved web speed times: The retailer’s average page download time decreased about 25% to 3.7 seconds across all devices and all pages on average Nov. 12-Dec. 9, 2017, from 5 seconds in the comparable period in 2016.

For smartphones on a 3G connection, on the retailer’s home page load time decreased to 6 seconds from 8 seconds, and on some pages the speed decreased to 4 seconds from 10 seconds.

U.S. Polo Assn. uses WebLinc Corp.’s e-commerce platform Workarea Commerce Platform as its e-commerce platform. The website uses an adaptive form of responsive design, which means the site formats to the size of the screen the consumer is viewing it on, and the server only sends the assets needed for that particular device. This form of web design improves site speed.

For the next few weeks, U.S. Polo will emphasize personalization in its marketing campaigns. For example, a “shop your size” email will contain links to on-sale products that are available in that shopper’s size and is based on previous purchases.

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This is new for the retailer because of a recent update that allows U.S. Polo Assn. to have multiple product pages that display different prices for the same product in a different color. For example, U.S. Polo Assn. may not have all of the sizes in stock for a seasonal product, such as a trendy pink polo, and so the retailer discounts it. However, the retailer still has that same polo available in traditional colors, such as black, available at the normal price. Previously, the retailer only could show that product having a price range instead of showing the pink color as a low price and the black polo at the normal price.

People are used to shopping online as their first choice rather than a second choice or their backup.
Matt Debnar

The retailer will also beef up its “post purchase” emails, such as sending an email thanking a customer for his order and asking him to write a review.

When the code freeze lifts on its site in January, the retailer will start to make tweaks based customer feedback it receives throughout the holiday season.

Because of customer feedback last year, the retailer updated its return and shipping information page to add more details about when and what time shoppers have to make a purchase in order to receive the package in time for Christmas. It also added more information about international and Canadian shipping, he says.

U.S. Polo is No. 440 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500.

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