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December was the deadliest month of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, which recorded the world’s highest daily COVID-19 fatalities to date. The United States surpassed 20 million total cases and began to see the first cases of a new, highly contagious variant appear. Some states saw a post-Thanksgiving surge in cases, reflecting the significant uptick in travel over the holiday, against the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) advice. And despite repeated health warnings, pre-holiday travel in the United States set a record for the busiest weekend of the pandemic.

Amid the gloom, there was a glimmer of light, however. By the end of the month, the first FDA-approved vaccines were being distributed around the country and, slowly, getting into the arms of the most vulnerable individuals.

Impact’s data scientists have been tracking the performance of key metrics across the partnership channel since January 6, 2020. We published those results for the first time in May of 2020 and continue to provide a monthly analysis of eight key verticals in the United States. Each month, we compare these verticals to previous months and to Impact’s benchmarks based on pre-pandemic data. 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 December:

Clicks and conversions plummet after November highs

The holiday shopping season came to a screeching halt after Black Friday and the Cyber Week peaks, returning to October levels.

Conversion rate fell throughout December and dropped below the start-of-the-year baseline just before Christmas. AOV began to slide early in the month but picked up mid-month, ending about 30% above baseline by the holiday weekend.

Revenue and commissions sink

After reaching their highest points of the year in November, both revenue and commissions fell in concert with buying momentum during December. Commissions closed out the month about 50% above baseline and just below the previous April high point. 

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 December 27, 2020. This timeframe offers a full picture of U.S. consumer behavior from:

  • Before the World Health Organization’s March 11, 2020, announcement of COVID-19 as a global pandemic  
  • During subsequent weeks as states declared stay-at-home orders 
  • Throughout May 2020, 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 2020, as the United States surpassed 2 million cases and infections were on the rise in many reopened southern and western states
  • July 2020, when the United States hit 3 million cases on July 8 and 4 million cases on July 23. Many southern and western states started reversing or pausing their reopenings
  • August 2020, as the United States surpassed 6 million cases, some states saw less than 1% infection rates and began reopening indoor dining
  • September 2020, as infection rates in most U.S. states start rising again as many schools and universities partially reopen, causing numerous localized outbreaks 
  • October 2020, when infection rates began to rapidly increase, resulting in new daily records for confirmed cases and marking the start of a much-feared “second wave”
  • November 2020, when the country participated in a crucial election, the monthly case count hit 4 million, double the previous month’s total, and Black Friday marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season
  • December 2020, when cases and deaths continued to set new records but the first doses of newly approved vaccines were administered

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 

Clicks and conversions both lost all their November gains, sinking to baseline levels by the last week of the month. 

Falling December conversions were mirrored by a drop in conversion rate, while average order value (AOV) remained relatively strong in the segment, hovering around 40% above baseline to close out the year with robust basket sizes.

Both revenues and commissions sank as quickly as they had risen in November, ending the month at about their October levels but above the January 2020 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 rose only slightly during and remained well below January baselines. Conversions in this vertical, however, soared in December to reach a peak for the year 250% above baseline which can be attributed to a rise in sports and music streaming.

Another month of flat clicks and relatively high conversions led to a new peak in conversion rate for December, which ended the month at 400% above benchmark. AOV rose only slightly from a flat several months, ending the year about 20% below baseline.

After a rollercoaster in November, Arts & Entertainment revenue and commissions rocketed during December. Revenue in the category hit the holiday at about 125% above benchmarks, with commissions more than 150%, setting a high for the year.  

Computers and electronics 

Tapped out from a strong showing in holiday deals during November, clicks in this category fizzled during December, sinking by 80% from November highs. Conversions, which were not as strong during November relative to April highs, ended the month about 20% above baseline. 

A December drop in conversions kept conversion below baseline throughout the holiday season. Average order value quickly lost most of its modest November gains, ending the period at about 45% above benchmarks. 

While remaining above pre-pandemic levels, revenue dropped sharply in the first weeks of December from November peaks. Commissions followed, dropping by about 80% through mid month.  

Flowers, gifts, food, and drink

Although the Thanksgiving holiday gave the category a seasonal boost it hadn’t seen since Mother’s Day, there was no such joy for Christmas. Clicks and conversions took a nosedive beginning the first week of December and never looked back.

Conversion rates in the category sank well below baseline in December, while AOV managed to stay relatively high, hitting its peak for the year of 70% above benchmark early in the month and finishing strong. 

Revenues and commissions mimicked clicks and conversions, plummeting to about 100% above baseline during December from November highs seven times that level.

Health and beauty 

After dropping fast from the November shopping peaks, clicks and conversions both experienced a small rally during Christmas week. Nevertheless, clicks ended the year well below baseline, and December for conversions was a weak month overall.

Conversion rate followed a slight uptick in conversions during Christmas week after a long fall from November highs. AOV in the category hit its highest point for 2020, with shoppers spending more than 20% more per order than when the year began. 

Slight gains in conversions and conversion rates in late December propped up revenue and enabled commissions to end the year above baseline but tepid compared to peaks in April and November.

Home and garden 

While both clicks and conversions went south in December, DIY consumers showed  some interest in the category toward mid-month, with clicks bouncing back by about 25%. They weren’t buying, however, and conversions largely sank during the same period and ended the year about where they started.

Conversion rates had the holiday blues, sinking to the lowest level of the year in December at 50% below benchmark rates. AOV, on the other hand, managed to recoup a small fraction of its initial December losses, ending the year on an upward trajectory at about 38% above baseline. 

As the bottom fell out of basket sizes, revenues and commissions lost most of  their November gains, too. Christmas week created a glimmer, however, bringing revenue in the category just above baseline and commissions in the black by 125%.

Telco and utilities 

Clicks in this category went from their highest point for the year to their lowest in about two weeks, ending the year about 8% below baseline. Conversions fared slightly better, dropping precipitously from November highs to end the year about 10% above January’s benchmark.

Bucking the trend, AOV in the telco category hit its peak at about Christmas, surpassing November’s peak and finishing the year strong. Conversion rates mirrored the divergence of clicks and conversions, ending the year with a small uptick.

Revenue returned to its midsummer levels after a big bump in November, ending December at +48% above January’s levels. Commissions in this category had been sliding since April and, despite a 10% jump leading up to Christmas, were mediocre at best during the final months of the year. 

Travel

Even those incautious Thanksgiving and Christmas travellers couldn’t pull conversions and clicks out of the deep doldrums this year. A slow decline that began in June remains unchanging, and there is as yet no sign of relief for this struggling vertical.

Low click volume has given the travel category a high conversion rate throughout the year, and that remained true in December despite a clear drop from November’s peak.  AOV remained flat and ended the month about 6% above baseline.

By Christmas, travel revenue was about 75% below baseline, with commissions somewhat lower. 

Seeking solid ground 

Earlier in the year, we might have predicted that effective vaccines and a settled election would have meant stability and optimism for 2021. But with infection rates soaring, vaccination rates lower than expected, and new political shockwaves to contend with, the economic landscape remains fraught. 

Consumers can be expected to continue seeking out reassurance in the form of credible resources and authentic voices. Partnerships offer brands a way to link into consumers’ trusted networks and gain credibility by association. 

Impact experts will continue to track these verticals into the new year to keep advertisers, partners, and industry participants informed with the latest data to help you make the most 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 grow@impact.com. We’ll help guide you through. 

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