Fall has arrived in the United States, and school season started. It was a hard summer for the United States, and September’s partnership data reflects these realities.
To recap, here’s where we stand: The country never really had a reprieve from coronavirus, with new cases peaking in mid-July, and plateauing at about 40K new cases per day throughout much of August and September. A number of universities announced back-to-campus reopening plans only to walk back on their intentions, opting instead to conduct fall classes online. A second wave of COVID-19 started in Europe, and experts hypothesize that a second wave could hit the United States next, right around the time that flu season picks up.
Impact’s data scientists have been tracking the performance of key metrics of the partnership channel since January 6, publishing results for the first time in May, providing a comparison to pre-pandemic data Impact’s benchmarks cover 8 key verticals in the United States, and depict how they have fared since the start of the year. With this data, our advertisers and their partners can stay informed, benchmark their campaigns, and calibrate their decisions as needed.
What the data shows for September:
Clicks dropped but conversions increased in September. Clicks locally peaked at the end of August but dipped throughout September. However, conversions actually improved throughout the month and currently sit above the baseline established at the start of the year.
Average order value slightly dipped but conversion rates improved dramatically. AOV moved down by a few percentage points in September, but conversion rates increased by about 15% in September. Could this be a trend that continues into October?
Revenues and commissions are in lock step. Both revenues and commissions increased by about 15% throughout September, remain about 20% above baseline, and are currently performing better than the period before the lockdowns started in March.
A recap of the methodology behind the results
This report features week-over-week (WoW) benchmarking on eight verticals to see how events around COVID-19 have impacted partnership metrics.
Impact’s analysis started the week of January 5, 2020, and goes through the week of September 27. This timeframe offers a full picture of U.S. consumer behavior from:
- Before the World Health Organization’s March 11 announcement of COVID-19 as a global pandemic
- During subsequent weeks as states declared stay-at-home orders
- Throughout May, when most states began lifting stay-at-home orders and allowed brick-and-mortar businesses to reopen, including retailers, restaurants, gyms, spas, and salons
- June, as the United States surpassed 2 million cases and infections were on the rise in many reopened southern and western states
- July, when the United States hit 3M cases on July 8 and 4M cases on July 23. Many southern and western states started reversing or pausing their reopenings.
- August, as the United States surpassed 6M cases, some states saw less than 1% infection rates and began reopening indoor dining.
- September, as infection rates in most U.S. states start rising again as many schools and universities partially reopen, causing numerous localized outbreaks.
Impact’s data scientists pulled data using the same cohort of brands across groups, remaining consistent across each week. They ran a statistical analysis to determine the number of brands to include in each category, identifying and filtering out outliers that drove entire categories.
Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories
In the Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories category, clicks and conversions appear to be bouncing back up from a slow close to back-to-school season. Both clicks and conversions close about 10% higher compared to the end of August, but are still, respectively, 10% and 20% below the baseline at the start of the year.
As clicks and conversions climbed in September, so did conversion rates, improving by about 30% from its low at the end of August. Though the number of conversions are low, bulk purchasing reached new heights at the end of September: basket sizes were 60% above the baseline set at the start of the year. This is perhaps due to a combination of both seasonality — as people purchase fall-wear — as well as stock up for a potential resurgence of COVID in the fall.
The improvement in conversions and basket sizes had a positive impact on both revenues and commissions, both of which climbed significantly in September. Revenues closed at 20% above baseline, far above the pre-lockdown period in late March, while commissions were not far behind, at around 15% above baseline.
Arts and Entertainment
The Arts and Entertainment category includes a wide range of subcategories — from books, art, photography, and music to tickets and shows, dating services, online gaming, and digital TV and video-on-demand services, some of which were severely hurt by the pandemic, while others experienced windfall gains.
Clicks dropped significantly at the start of the U.S. lockdowns in March and continued to slide down to a low point in late June, but have gradually improved since then. September saw the highest growth in clicks compared to the rest of the year. Unfortunately, this has been tempered by a fall in conversions in September, which, nevertheless, remained at 30% above baseline by the end of September.
AOV for Arts and Entertainment remained far below baseline levels established at the start of the year, and only marginally inched up in September. Conversion rates have been erratic throughout the start of lockdowns in March, with numerous peaks and valleys, though the overall trendline still keeps it over 100% above start-of-the-year baselines. Nonetheless, the conversion rate metric dropped throughout September.
Revenues for the category as a whole remained below early Q1 levels, before the pandemic lockdowns started. The upside, however, were commissions, which peaked in mid-September at close to 20% above baseline — the highest since January.
Computers and Electronics
In the Computers and Electronics category, clicks remained sky-high, but dropped by about 20% in September. By the end of September, this category sat at 40% above the start-of-the-year baseline. Conversions, on the other hand, remained about 10% below baseline.
Conversion rates plummeted greatly in the early months of the pandemic, and have not recovered. They moved gingerly upward throughout September, but remained about 35% below the start-of-the-year baseline. Basket size, on the other hand, remained impressive: though they have come down from their astronomical highs in mid-June, the gentle decline of the valley means that it stayed 40% above the start-of-the-year baseline.
From the previously described results, it means that revenues remained healthier than where they were at the start of the year, hovering around 15%-25% above the baseline throughout September. Commissions were not as extreme as revenues, and have been slowly climbing back up since its low point in mid-August, ending September at a level that matches baselines established at the start of the year.
Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink
The category of Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink saw an uptick in both clicks and conversions in September. Don’t let the scale of the graph above fool you – the spike you see on Mother’s Day makes large increases that happen at other parts of the year appear small. But, compared to August, the end of September showed a hefty 20% increase in clicks and a 25% increase in conversions.
Conversion rates continued its erratic but upward trend since it hit its low point in mid-May. In September, conversion rates were about 5% above the start-of-the-year baseline. Basket size remained high compared to mid-March pre-lockdown levels, but unfortunately dropped by about 10% in September. It remained about 25% above the start-of-the-year baseline though.
Finally revenues have been really stable since mid-June — inching steadily upwards, with a slight acceleration since late August. Revenues finished about 50% above the start-of-the-year baseline. Commissions were also relatively stable during that same period, but were flat throughout most of the summer. Commissions did see a modest increase starting from mid-August that carried over into September.
Health and Beauty
The Health and Beauty category saw clicks remain about 15% below the start-of-the-year benchmarks. Conversions were a bit more exciting: hitting peaks and valleys throughout most of the U.S. pandemic season. It appears to be on an upward trajectory in September, and finished about 20% above where it was at the end of August.
Flat clicks and higher conversions meant better conversion rates of course – and we hit new heights at the end of September. Conversion rates for this vertical, as a whole, have been trending upwards throughout the year. Basket size, on the other hand, has been bouncing around between the range of 5% below baseline to 15% above baseline throughout the year, with September finishing off at the low end of that range.
Despite the setback in basket size, revenues and commissions did better. Revenues were about 40% above the start-of-the-year baseline, while commissions were up 10% in September, finishing at about 30% above the start-of-the-year baseline.
Home and Garden
The Home and Garden vertical did well from a clicks perspective. Though it declined by 15% in September, it remained at about 55% above the start-of-the-year baseline. Conversions didn’t fared as well, hovering around where they were at the start of the year.
As a result, conversion rates remained depressed — they fell into a rut in May and have not recovered since. Basket size also fell sharply from its high in August back to baseline level in September. Perhaps everyone’s bought all the furniture they need to hunker down for working remotely for the cold months ahead?
Revenues in September were flat, hovering around the start-of-the-year baseline level. Commissions, on the other hand, continued to do well, mimicking the ups-and-downs of revenue but at a higher level to where it was at the start of the year.
Telco and Utilities
Telco and Utilities have dropped steadily from the highs of April and May. Clicks went back down close to the start-of-the-year baseline while conversions dropped below the baseline for the first time since the start of lockdowns in late March.
Conversion rates, as a result, remained below the start-of-the-year baseline, though it improved from its low point in August. Average order values, on the other hand, remained high and looked like it would continue to trend upward. Though they did drop slightly in September, AOV remained 30% above the start-of-the-year baseline.
Revenues continued to command impressive levels. Though both revenues and commissions dropped in September, they remained well-above their start-of-the-year baseline: revenues by about 25% and commissions by about 5%.
The beleaguered Travel category, which we started tracking in July, continued to suffer throughout September. Clicks and conversions rose to a mini-peak in late May, but gently declined again — clicks to 80% below the start-of-the-year baseline and conversions to about 70% below.
Conversion rates and AOV appeared to be two of the few bright spots in this vertical. Perhaps due to the low volume of clicks, conversion rates remained high, hovering around 40% above benchmark throughout September. AOV has been on a decline since April, but remained about 10% above baseline.
Revenues and commissions also continued to decline as a trend, though revenues experienced a small boost in mid-September. Revenue remained 70% below baseline while commissions were nearly 80% below baseline.
Trust and authenticity is as important as ever
It’s difficult to predict where the virus and the economy will be in the months ahead. The Federal Reserve chairman predicts that the U.S. economic recovery will falter without additional stimulus from the federal government. The virus is currently surging in the Midwest, and was, toward late summer, on the decline in most other parts of the country which were hit hard in the late spring and early summer. But no longer – new cases are rising, and only three states have experienced declines in new COVID cases. Are these early indicators that a second wave is coming?
When times are trying, even downright frightening, consumers tend to rely on brands, publishers, and people they trust. Partnerships guarantee a greater level of authenticity because their partners have mutually aligned incentives and goals to provide the best content – content that is educational, informative, and useful – to their audience.
We’ll continue to track these verticals as the pandemic continues to keep advertisers, partners, and industry participants, informed with the latest data to help you make the most out of the partnership channel.
To see how you can connect with your audiences in authentic, trusted ways through partnerships, reach out to an Impact growth technologist at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll help guide you through.