Partnership benchmarks 2020: The start of holiday shopping season lifts nearly all boats

November was truly a historic month for the United States. A presidential election with a prolonged period of vote tallying created a great deal of uncertainty in the early part of the month. Meanwhile, the pandemic spiraled out of control. The United States reported more than four million COVID-19 cases in November, more than most […]

Todd Crawford, VP of Strategic Initiatives
Todd Crawford
VP of Strategic Initiatives

November was truly a historic month for the United States. A presidential election with a prolonged period of vote tallying created a great deal of uncertainty in the early part of the month. Meanwhile, the pandemic spiraled out of control. The United States reported more than four million COVID-19 cases in November, more than most countries have reported all year. Hospitalizations more than doubled, and health officials warned that things could get worse in December. The CDC advised people not to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, signalling a very different holiday season for most Americans. 

There was some positive news, as Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca all announced positive results for vaccine trials, moving the world one step closer to gaining control over the virus. 

Impact’s data scientists have been tracking the performance of key metrics across the partnership channel since January 6. We published those results for the first time in May 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 November:

Clicks and conversions hit new highs in November

November marks the official start of the holiday shopping season with Black Friday, and despite the grim news about the pandemic, consumers still clearly intend to spend this year. After ending October below the baseline established at the start of the year, conversions grew by more than 100% in November, soaring past the previous peak achieved in late April. Not to be outdone, clicks grew nearly 60% from October and also reached a new high point for the year.

Average order value continued its rise and conversion rate bounced back

Conversions grew at a greater rate than clicks, and as a result conversion rate shot up over the course of the month. After sitting well below the baseline since early May, conversion rate finally broke back into positive territory and ended November nearly 20% above that baseline. AOV hit a new peak for the second straight month — 60% above the start-of-the-year baseline — before a 10-point drop off at month’s end.

Revenues and commissions doubled

Revenues and commissions truly tell the story of a successful start to the holiday shopping season, as both metrics not only hit their highest points of the year, they blew past them. Both metrics were about 20% above baseline at the end of October. By the end of November, revenues were more than 200% above baseline, while commissions were greater than 150% above.  

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 October 26. 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
  • October, 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, 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.

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 soared in November in the Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories category, as both metrics hit new peaks, spurred on by Black Friday offers and holiday shopping season. Conversions rebounded from a down October, shooting from 25% below the start-of-the-year baseline to 140% above baseline by month’s end. Clicks saw nothing but an upward trajectory for four straight weeks as well, rising to 75% above baseline. This was the first time clicks had been above baseline since mid-July.

The massive growth in conversions throughout the month fueled a recovery for conversion rate. The metric sat at 40% above baseline by the end of November following months below baseline. The rise in conversions brought average order value down throughout the month, below the October peak but still toward the top end of what we’ve seen throughout the rest of the year, at 40% above baseline.

Both revenues and commissions rode the high conversions to hockey-stick like growth in November. Revenues had been steadily inching up since a late summer swoon, but they exploded in November, ending the month at nearly 250% above baseline. Commissions bounced back from a soft October to end the month around 200% above baseline. To put these new peaks into context, the previous highs for both metrics came in early May, when both hovered around 75% above benchmark.

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 remained flat for the second straight month. Meanwhile, conversions decreased through the first three weeks in November, but rebounded in the final week to erase those losses, spurred by Black Friday offers.

Another month of flat clicks and relatively high conversions led to a new peak in conversion rate, which ended the month at 300% above benchmark. Like conversions, conversion rate actually slid a bit in the end of the month before a big Thanksgiving week rebound. AOV continued its slow descent and ended the month more than 50% below baseline.

Commissions in Arts & Entertainment were a rollercoaster in November, as they fell below the baseline at the start of the month and then ended the month on a new high, at nearly 40% above the baseline. That end-of-the-month rebound helped pull revenues up, although they still remain below the baseline.

Computers and Electronics 

The Computers and Electronics category was yet another that saw meteoric growth at the end of the month, as clicks reached a new high point. All of those clicks finally yielded conversions in the final week of the month, as the metric shot from below the baseline to about 30% above. The strong showing for holiday deals helped conversions get above the baseline for the first time since July. 

The massive jump in conversions during the final week of November provided a nice bump for conversion rate, ending a skid that began in early September. Still, not even the holiday boost could get conversion rates higher than 40% below the baseline. Average order value rode the holiday wave too, rising to the highest levels we’ve seen since the summer.

Revenues and commissions both remain nicely above pre-pandemic levels. Revenues in particular saw a solid month, shooting to 100% above the baseline, the highest levels they’ve reached since the early days of the pandemic. Commissions, meanwhile, actually hit a new peak for the year the week before Black Friday sales and offers rolled out. And although commissions dropped in the final week of the month, they were still 40% above baseline, among the highest levels we’ve seen all year.

Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink

The Thanksgiving holiday brought soaring growth to the Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink category, giving the category a seasonal boost it hasn’t seen since Mother’s Day. Clicks grew by more than 100% over the course of the month, hitting a new high. Meanwhile, conversions grew by nearly 150%, almost matching the Mother’s Day spike, just shy of 200% above baseline.

Thanksgiving brings a need for food, drink, and decor, and customers spent more in November than in any other month. Basket size was the highest it’s been all year and topped out at 60% above the start-of-the-year baseline in the final week, nearly double what we saw for AOV around Mother’s Day. Conversion rates continued a drop that began in October, but reversed that trend in the second half of the month. However, even with a rebound, they remained below the baseline.

Revenues and commissions mimicked clicks and conversions, creating a nice surge in growth to match the early May surge. Revenues started the month at 175% above baseline and ended the month 350% above. Commissions continued riding some late October momentum and then soared by month’s end, matching their Mother’s Day peak at 175% above baseline.

Health and Beauty 

The holiday shopping season proved to be a relief to many categories that had recently experienced setbacks, including Health and Beauty, as both clicks and conversions reversed slides. Conversions grew rapidly and ended the month at more than 90% above the baseline. Clicks finally made their way back above baseline for the first time since August.

Massive growth in conversions and modest growth in clicks sent conversion rate through the roof in November. Conversion rate was greater than 80% above baseline in the month’s final week, far and away the highest it’s been all year. Average order value has remained steady through much of the year, and November continued October’s upward trajectory and kept the metric above baseline.

The most conversions and highest conversion rates of the year led to the highest revenues of the month. Even with the modest growth in AOV, revenues ascended to 110% above baseline. Commissions were just shy of 60%, a nearly 40% increase from where they sat at the end of October, and the highest they’ve been above the baseline since a rush on beauty products in the early days of the pandemic.

Home and Garden 

Leaves may fall in the autumn months, but both clicks and conversions in the Home and Garden category took upward trajectories in November as they reached new peaks for the year. Clicks stood at 140% above the start-of-the-year baseline. Conversions, which had been hovering around the baseline since June, shot up to hit 70% above baseline, a high for the year.

The meteoric growth in conversions couldn’t pull conversion rates out of the basement. Even with 10% growth in November, they remained below the baseline, continuing a trend that started in May. AOV continued a positive trend that began in September with steep growth. After basket size rose to 110% above baseline, it fell in the final week to 80%, still higher than at any other point in the year.

A new high point in basket size leads to new peaks for revenues and commissions. Commissions in particular took off like a rocket and ended the month 350% above baseline, roughly 300% higher compared to October. Revenues followed a similar path to AOV and dipped in the final week of November. Still, with revenues around 225% above the start-of-the-year baseline, the month ended on a high note.

Telco and Utilities 

November brought a rebound to Telco and Utilities as well. Clicks hit a new peak for the year, just below 20% above baseline. Conversions were poor at the start of the month but bounced back in a big way to end the month more than 20% above where they were after one week into November.

Conversions had a higher rate of growth than clicks in November. That pulled conversion rates above the baseline for the first time since late September. Basket size continued to climb and finished the month on a new high, 40% above baseline.

After seven weeks of relatively flat revenues, the metric shot up in the final two weeks of November, where they ended the month in excess of 70% above baseline. Those same two weeks helped commissions reverse a month-long skid and pulled them up to about 10% above baseline.


November continued to be hard on the woebegone travel category. Clicks ended the month nearly 90% below baseline, while conversions approached 80% below.

Low click volume has given the travel category a high conversion rate throughout the year, and that continued in November, although a swoon in the month’s final week erased about two months of growth. Average order value has remained relatively flat since August: it ended the month about 10% above baseline.

Revenues and commissions continued slipping in November. Both approached, but didn’t quite match, their lowest depths thus far this year. Revenue was roughly 75% below baseline, with commissions greater than 80% underneath the 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 November COVID numbers were dire across the country, and while consumers seem to be anticipating a jolly holiday season, a long, confined winter looms.

In times of uncertainty, 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, in order 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 We’ll help guide you through. 

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