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PlayBetter Drives 30% More Revenue in Google Shopping After Leaving Shopping Actions

THE SCOOP

PlayBetter is a sporting goods retailer with roughly 3,000 items in its catalog. The company wanted to use Google Shopping to increase visibility and drive revenue at a profitable return. Following a two-year period of growth in Google Shopping with Sidecar, PlayBetter decided to enable Shopping Actions, Google’s universal, single-cart shopping solution. The retailer soon found that Shopping Actions disrupted its Google Shopping growth. With Sidecar’s help, it was able to recover swiftly and turn performance around during a peak sales period.

PROFILE

Retail Category
Sporting goods
Website
Headquarters
Baltimore, MD
Channel

The GOAL

Cut Wasted Spend and Improve ROAS

Success was hard to come by for PlayBetter in its nascent stage of advertising on Google Shopping. The sporting goods retailer knew the channel was filled with promise but its digital marketing team lacked the resources to unlock this potential. With limited Google Shopping experience, PlayBetter needed a solution that would drive efficient spend and improve return in the channel.

“We didn’t have the skills or the time to fully support our Shopping campaigns,” said Chris Regan, Director of Growth at PlayBetter. “We knew the channel had value. We just weren’t sure how to capitalize on it.”

PlayBetter’s initial Google Shopping struggles were the result of an underdeveloped bid strategy. The retailer bid up on lower performing ad groups to drive more clicks and conversions. However, these groups continued to perform poorly and waste ad spend.

Regan and his team searched the market for a Google Shopping partner and found Sidecar. They were interested in Sidecar for Shopping and what the Search Query Management technology, a key feature, offered: the ability to identify high value and low value keywords and assign the right bid to each to meet the retailer’s return goal. Said Regan, “Search Query Management would help us spend resourcefully and use data to inform bid decisions. It would also lower our CPCs by placing relevant keywords and phrases into the right ad groups.”

Along with a proper bid strategy, Sidecar’s technology would allow Regan to break from manual management. Sidecar’s team of e-commerce professionals would provide Regan’s team with frequent insight into how campaign structure and performance was improving. Sidecar would then educate the PlayBetter team and help them become more comfortable operating in the channel.

“After an initial discovery with Sidecar, I knew we’d learn a lot from its team,” said Regan. “Manually adjusting bids for thousands of products wasn’t realistic for us. Having that combination of automation and human interaction to strategize with was too valuable to pass up.”

BY the Numbers

3K
Products
in catalog
25%
Revenue Growth
in December YoY
56%
Cost Savings
in Google Shopping after first four months with Sidecar
525%
Increase in ROAS
in Google Shopping after first four months with Sidecar

The strategy

Smarter Campaign Segmentation

After reviewing PlayBetter’s catalog, Sidecar’s technology segmented Google Shopping campaigns across three groups: branded products, non-branded products, and bundles. Bundles are a collection of products packaged together and sold as one item. Bundles are unique to PlayBetter’s business in that they feature a distinct group of goods sold together and are advertised on Google Shopping.

Each branded, non-branded, and bundle campaign was broken out by product type. This would provide insight into how products would be bid on by performance. With bundles, Sidecar creates individual campaigns based on category (i.e. golf, outdoor, and cycling), segments these campaigns by brand, and breaks out each brand’s top products.

For example, two of PlayBetter’s best performing brands, SkyTrak and Garmin, fell into a branded group. These two brands were then broken out at the product type level. This created categories like golf equipment, running equipment, and cycling gear. Corresponding products like the SkyTrak Launch Monitor & Simulator filtered into their respective product type. Sidecar’s technology then made informed bidding decisions on products in accordance with PlayBetter’s business goals and seasonality.

“The technology is constantly adjusting bids and keywords to help us meet our goals,” said Regan. “For a small team like us that needs to move a good deal of product, it’s really hands off. Being able to take a step back and see ad performance improve is fantastic.”

Sidecar’s technology identified which products drove the most traffic and converted best for PlayBetter. It then bid up on those products. Conversely, the SQM feature located products that weren’t converting and pulled back on spend. This allowed PlayBetter to eliminate wasted ad spend, increase brand visibility, and drive higher ROAS.

With its Shopping campaigns on course, PlayBetter hoped to continue expanding its footprint on Google. It was interested in Shopping Actions (now Google Shopping), Google’s commission-based program that brings together its ad platform and marketplace to feature ads across the Google Search Network, Google Shopping, and Google Assistant. The retailer believed Shopping Actions would drive similar results to Google Shopping and increase visibility across Google’s surfaces.

“Most shoppers’ eyes are on Google,” said Regan. “When Shopping Actions launched in 2018, we considered how we could leverage the platform to grow our business. We decided to turn it on ourselves during the holidays and see if we could benefit from the exposure.”

PlayBetter officially enabled Shopping Actions in November 2018. The retailer aimed to grab additional exposure at the beginning of the holiday season. Getting set up was simple, but the program’s lack of transparency—and its effect on PlayBetter’s Google Shopping campaigns— soon became problematic.

Regan and his team discovered that advertising on both Google Shopping and Shopping Actions had negative consequences. When advertising the same product in Google Shopping and Shopping Actions, Google is more likely to display the Shopping Actions ad over the Google Shopping ad, especially in the first two slots of the carousel. Though it is possible that both ads can appear for the same search, retailers may see Google Shopping performance decline as their Shopping ads display lower in the carousel, if at all. For PlayBetter, advertising on both Google Shopping and Shopping Actions caused its Google Shopping performance to slip during a peak time of year for its business.

“Our Shopping performance dwindled soon after turning on Shopping Actions,” said Regan. “It ate into what we worked hard to achieve with Sidecar in Google Shopping, and we came away with little knowledge of how Google was using and displaying our ads.”

The combination of poor Shopping performance and inefficient data insight forced PlayBetter leave the program in early December. Regan and his team were unable to view critical metrics like clicks, conversions, and conversion rates in their Shopping Actions reporting. Additionally, traffic to Shopping Actions ads remains on Google from discovery to checkout, which negated PlayBetter from receiving site traffic from its ads.

“The lack of transparency in Shopping Actions was difficult for us, especially during an important time of year,” said Regan. “We didn’t have any control over Shopping Actions performance, and we felt powerless in managing our campaigns.”

PlayBetter bowed out of Shopping Actions four weeks after making the decision to turn on the program. It refocused its marketing efforts on Google Shopping and capitalized on the remainder of the holiday season with Sidecar.

“For retail marketers interested in Shopping Actions, make sure you have a good grasp of your Shopping benchmarks so you can compare channel performance,” Regan said. “It’s not a user-friendly experience, and it gave us a lot of headaches. It ended up not being viable for our business at this time.” 
Sidecar has made us profitable on Google Shopping when we weren’t before. The results speak volumes.
Chris Regan
Director of Growth for PlayBetter

the results

Profitability in Google Shopping

After its first four months with Sidecar (a period prior to enabling Shopping Actions), PlayBetter’s Google Shopping spend dropped 56% while revenue grew 6%. These results stayed true to PlayBetter’s Google Shopping goals; reduce wasted spend and drive more revenue.

“Sidecar has become a focal part of our business for advertising on Google Shopping,” said Regan. “Whether we’re pushing top brands or promoting our custom bundle packages, the technology helps us drive traffic and cultivate a community of new customers interested in our brand.”

PlayBetter turned Google Shopping into a steady revenue stream with Sidecar. Year-over-year Google Shopping ROAS grew from 1.61 to 10.06, a 525% increase. Conversions on Google Shopping increased 51% YoY between April and August, a peak seasonal time for PlayBetter.

One of the retailer’s top-selling brands, SkyTrak, also saw healthy gains. Prior to Sidecar, SkyTrak products on PlayBetter operated at a 10:1 ROAS. Once Sidecar segmented the retailer’s Shopping campaigns into branded, non-branded, and bundle groups, the SkyTrak branded group jumped to a nearly 20:1 ROAS, a significant boost in return for the company’s top products.

“SkyTrak products are an important part of our business, and Sidecar’s ability to nearly double our ROAS on those products is huge,” said Regan. “Sidecar has made us profitable on Google Shopping when we weren’t before. The results speak volumes.”

By contrast, this performance waned when Shopping Actions was enabled. With Google providing limited reporting on PlayBetter’s Shopping Actions campaigns, PlayBetter and Sidecar struggled to find a means to balance Shopping and Shopping Actions together. When comparing YoY holiday performance in November, clicks to Shopping ads fell 44% despite receiving higher bids (average cost-per-click increased 171% YoY).

YoY Google Shopping ROAS in November dropped 63%. November revenue in Google Shopping also fell 54% YoY. This was likely the result of Google replacing Shopping ads with Shopping Actions ads across its platforms, causing Shopping performance to decline.

Turning off Shopping Actions in early December allowed the company to salvage the remainder of the holiday season on Google Shopping. With Sidecar’s technology and team piloting campaigns with no hindrance from Shopping Actions, performance in the channel improved in December year over year. Google Shopping revenue increased 25%, conversions jumped 128%, and clicks to Shopping ads jumped 73%. Overall, December revenue increased 30% compared to November, when Shopping Actions was enabled.

PlayBetter remains skeptical of Shopping Actions, but the retailer is certain it will continue its partnership with Sidecar. Regan and his team rely on Sidecar’s technology and team to drive results in Google Shopping.

“With Sidecar, I’m able to take Google Shopping off my plate and let the technology do the heavy lifting,” said Regan. “We appreciate the transparency Sidecar provides and the human relationship we’ve cultivated. We’re never left in the dark on performance , and that means the world to us.” 

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