Exclusive Q&A: U.S. Polo Assn. thrives digitally despite crises

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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jose nino
Jose Nino, VP of global digital strategy & e-commerce, USPA Global Licensing Inc.

The official brand of the United States Polo Association is jockeying for e-commerce success despite COVID-19 and global supply chain disruption.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Jose Nino, VP of global digital strategy & e-commerce at USPA Global Licensing Inc., the company that manages the global brand U.S. Polo Assn, about how the specialty retailer has managed to maintain consistency in its online business throughout the challenges of the past two years. U.S. Polo Assn. offers apparel for men, women and children, as well as accessories, footwear, travel and home goods. 

How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact e-commerce?
The pandemic has brought forward a few years of e-commerce economic activity and progress. However, we are seeing comps normalize. It has shed a new light on the importance of omnichannel. Digital-only brands will have a difficult road ahead of them in the short term as people learn to live with COVID-19. Consumers are starting to get out and shop at malls. 

The pandemic also forced e-commerce companies to invest more in the back office, and leverage omnichannel to help ease logistics strain.  U.S. Polo Assn. has increased click-and-collect programs in many stores around the globe, allowing customers to pick up merchandise at a local store. Besides saving time, it has helped us offset some of the dramatically increased costs with freight and last-mile delivery.

What impact have continued supply chain disruptions had on e-commerce?
Aligning inventory to match forecasted demand has been difficult. Like offline environments, e-commerce is not isolated from the seasonality of apparel retail. Selling recently arrived inventory that may already be out of season due to these delays has been challenging. However, our teams at U.S. Polo Assn. have executed creative solutions that have kept our strong sell-through rates relatively intact. 

Can you explain in more detail how U.S. Polo Assn. has responded to these crises?
U.S. Polo Assn. is in the unique position where our flagship item, the polo shirt, is an evergreen item whose seasonality is defined by many colorways. Therefore, we’ve marketed colors from our year-round colorways as substitutes for supply chain impacted colors belonging to a shorter season, like our resort collection.

Similarly, our U.S. Polo Assn. e-commerce sites have reshuffled category page availability so that in stock colorways always load first, and colors for which we are anticipating supply chain replenishment issues load last. This decreased strain in our back office improves warehouse operations, ensuring smooth delivery within promised timeframes.

What do you think the biggest e-commerce trend(s) will be in the next 12 months?
Livestreaming will see continued expansion. U.S. Polo Assn. was one of the first global apparel companies in China to engage in livestreaming during COVID-19, and have enjoyed a first mover advantage since then. 

Our livestream events on Douyin (TikTok in China) and others have been very popular, with incredible sell-through and conversion rates.  As e-commerce and marketplace platforms continue to include livestreaming technology by default, the technical bridge to entry will be facilitated allowing for this trend to continue its momentum.

[Read more: CSA Q&A: U.S. Polo Assn. weathers pandemic with digital commerce]