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The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and while there are lingering questions about spreading COVID variants and spending habits amid inflation, early returns look good for brands deploying partnerships.

Revenues were up during Cyber Week, one of retailers’ most critical sales weeks. The total number of customers exceeded expectations, as 179.8 million unique shoppers made in-store and online purchases during the holiday weekend, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) reports. That was down from 186.4 million last year but was in line with the four-year average.

Previously, the impact.com data scientists took a close look at partnership benchmarks for the retail and shopping sector in aggregate in our post, Partnership benchmarks 2020 vs. 2021: Revenues up but a surprising Black Friday. This post takes a deep dive into some of the retail verticals to see how they fared at the beginning of the crucial holiday shopping season.

Key findings from the research include: 

  • AOV was higher across every category for Cyber Week, year over year.
  • Cyber Week conversions were down in nearly every retail category. Sports, Outdoors, and Fitness was the lone outlier, posting a modest 7 percent increase year over year.
  • Looking at the full four-week period leading up to Cyber Week 2021, conversions were flat across most categories, with a big year-over-year lift for Home and Garden.
  • Even with fewer conversions, revenues were up across nearly every category year over year, save for one: Health and Beauty.
  • Payouts were up throughout Cyber Week, aided by a strong Cyber Monday for nearly all categories tracked. In fact, five of the six categories tracked here saw Cyber Week payouts increase by 40 percent or more, year over year. The increased payouts contributed to the overall trend and might have resulted from brands pushing for more Cyber Monday sales after a slow Black Friday.

The methodology behind the benchmarks

The impact.com data scientist team tracked year-over-year (YoY) by day benchmarking across six verticals to compare 2020 and 2021 Cyber Week year-over-year growth. The data was pulled using a cohort of hundreds of brands within the retail and shopping verticals that contained the same-store data year over year. 

All numbers quoted in this research are relative to the value for the four weeks before Thanksgiving 2020. Increases and decreases represent the change relative to that single value. For example, $1 million in payouts four weeks before Thanksgiving is equivalent to an index value of 100, so $2 million in payouts the next day equals an index value of 200.

The impact.com’s data analysis began four weeks before Cyber Week on October 28, 2021, and ended on Cyber Monday, November 29. The 2020 period ran from October 29, 2020, to November 30, 2020. This time frame offers a whole window into consumer behavior leading up to and including Cyber Week. For both years, “Cyber Week” refers to the five-day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.

Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories 

Apparel- Shoes-Accessories-graph-day-by-day

Conversions were down 8 percent during Cyber Week in the Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories category.

Apparel- Shoes-Accessories-graph-day-by-day

Even with conversions down in the category, Cyber Week revenues were relatively flat, at 2 percent greater year over year.

Payouts were up by 21 percent over Cyber Week, compared to 2020, signaling that when partners drove conversions in this category, they were rewarded by their brand partners.

AOV was up 12 percent over the entire study period, and 35 percent during Cyber Week.

Computers and Electronics 

Conversions were actually up roughly 1 percent in Computers and Electronics over the period studied, but they were down 24 percent during Cyber Week. This was the biggest decline in Cyber Week conversion activity out of the five categories analyzed.

During Cyber Week, revenues were up 13 percent year over year — one of the largest revenue lifts across the categories examined. This was given an extra boost by a 20 percent increase in revenues on Thanksgiving and a 26 percent increase on Cyber Monday. 

Even with conversions down by nearly a quarter, payouts were up by 92 percent during Cyber Week. The big difference-makers were Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, which each saw greater than 40 percent lift. Meanwhile, payouts on Black Friday were about equal to where they were in 2020.

A healthy Cyber Monday for the category resulted in AOV up 27 percent across the entire period, compared to 2020, and up by 147 percent during Cyber Week.

Health and Beauty 

Conversions were down 11 percent in Health and Beauty during Cyber Week, which was right in line with the average across all Retail and Shopping categories.

While conversion activity was consistent with the aggregate trend, Health and Beauty revenues were actually down year over year during Cyber Week. This was the lone category to see lower Cyber Week revenues compared to 2020, with a 5 percent decline.

Payouts were up just slightly for Health and Beauty during Cyber Week, by 2 percent. As seen in other categories, Cyber Monday payouts were higher — in this case, by 6 percent. However, Black Friday commissions were way down (22 percent) and it took a big Thanksgiving (up 18 percent) to compensate for that poor-performing Friday.

AOV was 26 percent higher throughout Cyber Week 2021 than 2020, mirroring the larger trend impact.com has seen.

Home and Garden 

Home and Garden was the only category that saw substantial year-over-year conversion growth across the full four-week study, posting a 9 percent increase compared to 2020. However, like other categories, Cyber Week conversions were down in Home and Garden by 19% compared to 2020. This was due in large part to Black Friday, where conversions were down 43 percent compared to last year. Upon closer examination, Black Friday 2020 may have been an outlier for Black Friday conversions, and conversions this year were much more in line with the expectations for the category.

Revenues were up by 7 percent for the category during Cyber Week. As with other categories, this was thanks to Cyber Monday growth — in this case, 14 percent year-over-year growth.

Payouts were 102 percent higher during Cyber Week 2021 in the Home and Garden category, driven by a strong Cyber Monday. Considering that conversions were relatively flat in the category on Cyber Monday, this means that retailers in the category were paying more to their partners than they were a year ago. 

Home and Garden enjoyed higher revenues, higher payouts, and higher AOV during Cyber Week. Compared to 2020, AOV was up 109 percent for the category.

Sports Outdoors Fitness

Conversions saw a modest increase in Sports, Outdoors, and Fitness, up 7 percent during Cyber Week, compared to 2020.

Cyber Week revenues were up in 2021 in the category, by 24 percent. As impact.com data scientists saw in other categories, Cyber Monday was particularly strong, with revenue 28 percent greater than last year.

Payouts were up 31 percent on Cyber Monday, coinciding with the high revenue that day, and helping drive Cyber Week commissions up by 43 percent compared to last year.

Sports, Outdoors, and Fitness was yet another category that saw a higher AOV during Cyber Week, up 49 percent compared to last year.

Prepping for an interesting holiday season 

Both brands and partners knew 2020 was an abnormal year as it happened. In 2021, it’s encouraging to see that even with fewer conversions, the commissions paid out to partners were greater than they were a year ago, across all categories. 

The question remains whether the entire 2021 holiday season will look the same, or if it will be more in line with what retailers have seen in the past. More to the point, what constitutes a “normal” holiday season going forward? No matter the answers, it’s clear that partnerships remain a key component of driving sales and revenue throughout the holiday season.

Want to find out more about honing your partnerships to ensure you get the best results no matter what day of the year? Reach out to an impact.com growth technologist at grow@impact.com.

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