Partnership benchmarks 2021: Basket size is on the rise, but uncertainty looms

It’s completely understandable to have COVID fatigue at this point. In the 16 months since the pandemic has gripped the world, we’ve dealt with economic upheaval, isolation, and a shifting definition of the “new normal.” Our most recent partnership benchmarks update came back in February, where it was clear that COVID was still calling the […]

Impact Press release
Todd Crawford, VP of Strategic Initiatives
Todd Crawford
VP of Strategic Initiatives

It’s completely understandable to have COVID fatigue at this point. In the 16 months since the pandemic has gripped the world, we’ve dealt with economic upheaval, isolation, and a shifting definition of the “new normal.”

Our most recent partnership benchmarks update came back in February, where it was clear that COVID was still calling the shots across many verticals. Much has changed since then. Vaccines are widely available and 70% of adults in the U.S. have received at least one vaccination shot. As a result, life has returned to some semblance of normal for many Americans, with social activity returning.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is not over. The Delta variant of the virus is spreading throughout the country and hospitalizations are on the rise in southern states. Masking rules are returning, and New York City will now require proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gym access, and other indoor activities.

How are partnerships faring now

With the specter of more lockdowns looming, it’s a good time to examine these benchmarks once again and see if the rise of the Delta variant is impacting key verticals.

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 2020, and provided a monthly analysis of eight key verticals in the United States with data through July 2021. This analysis compares 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 as of July:

Clicks and conversions leveled off in early summer

January saw clicks and conversions stabilize following end-of-year volatility. Throughout the first half of 2021, conversions continued to be volatile, while clicks remained on a steady decline. Both metrics flattened from June to July, continuing to remain above the baseline established in January 2020.

Average order value continued its 2021 rise 

Following an expected seasonal drop in December, AOV has been growing steadily throughout 2021. A small decline of less than 10% in June has been the only setback this year, and the metric completely recovered in July, continuing its upward trajectory and indicating that consumers are spending more. Meanwhile, with conversions and clicks both remaining relatively flat from June to July, conversion rate remained so as well, hovering around 10% above baseline.

Revenues and commissions bounce

Revenues and commissions typically peak in the holiday season, which is what happened in 2020. Since then, commissions have been on a downward trajectory, while revenues have been up and down throughout 2021. Both metrics declined in April, bounced back in May, fell again in June, and rebounded yet again in July. Fortunately, they are both healthy, with revenues slightly more than 80% above baseline, and commissions hovering just less than 80% above baseline for the month of July.

A recap of the methodology behind the results 

This report features month-over-month (MoM) benchmarking on eight verticals to see how events around COVID-19 have impacted partnership metrics.

Impact’s analysis began on January 5, 2020, and goes through the end of July 2021. 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  
  • March 2020 as states declared stay-at-home orders 
  • Summer 2020, when the United States surpassed 6 million cases, some states saw less than 1% infection rates and began reopening indoor dining. 
  • 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 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
  • Spring 2021, when vaccines became readily available to all Americans over the age of 16
  • May 2021, when infections hit their lowest level since June 2020, 57% of U.S. adults had received at least one shot of a vaccine and the vaccine became available to children aged 12 to 15 years old.
  • June 2021, when many consumers returned to vacation plans and states lifted their travel restrictions
  • July 2021, when the highly contagious Delta variant contributed to surging cases

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 hovered around the baseline in the Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories category in July.  Clicks had managed to stay above baseline for a full year, but dropped back below in April 2021. They rose above in May, but have remained under baseline for two consecutive months. Conversions have not fallen as steeply, and as a result they remained above baseline. Still, they were 50% above baseline in May and have now fallen for two consecutive months.

Declines in conversions and clicks led to a decline in conversion rate in the category in July. The metric is 10% above baseline, the lowest it has been since February of this year. Even with fewer conversions, AOV continued its upward trajectory, reaching 55% above baseline following seven consecutive months of growth. That’s the highest point since Impact began compiling this data in January 2020.

The revenues and commissions data looks very similar to the charts for clicks, conversions, and conversion rate. An early year slowdown, a May rebound, and then two straight months of decline have revenues approximately 70% above baseline, while commissions sit 30% above.

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 have not fluctuated much at all within this category over the past 19 months. The metric was flat from April through June of this year before taking a modest dip in July to more than 50% below the baseline. Conversions are a different story. After peaking in January, the metric fell off and began a slow return in the late spring in early summer. By the end of July, conversions had set a new peak, more than 125% above baseline. 

This upward trend is thanks to movie and music streaming, which has been climbing steadily since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as the renewed interest in live ticket sales. 

Another month of relatively stable clicks and increased conversions led to a new peak in conversion rate, which ended the month more than 400% above benchmark. Even with the rising conversions, AOV hovered in the exact same place it has been since the pandemic began, roughly 50% below baseline.

Commissions rode the conversion wave in July, hitting a brand new peak that even surpassed the holiday season, nearly 80% above the benchmark. Meanwhile, revenues continued to climb, marking the second straight month of growth.

Computers and Electronics 

July brought an end to steep declines in clicks and conversions in the Computers and Electronics category. Following a March peak that was nearly 70% above baseline, conversions were on the downswing all the way through June before they bounced back slightly in July. The decline hasn’t been as steep for clicks, and the metric also saw modest growth in the month. 

An uptick in clicks and conversions helped conversion rate level off in July, and it sits right at the baseline. Average order value declined for the second straight month after it hit a new high point in May, and it still remains a healthy 115% above the pre-pandemic benchmark.

Revenues in the computer and electronics category peaked in April and May, at nearly 200% above pre-pandemic levels. In July, they fell to around 150% above the baseline. At the same time, commissions took a bit of a tumble in April and May, but have trended upward since then, reaching 50% above baseline by July’s end.

Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink

The Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink category is one that hinges on seasonal holidays more than just about any other category in this analysis, and the data continues to reflect those changes, with valleys following the holiday season and Mother’s Day. Even with the expected seasonal swoon, the category suffered in July, with conversions dropping below the pre-pandemic baseline, and clicks falling to the lowest levels seen since early 2020.

Despite some of the lowest clicks and conversions seen since Impact began analyzing the data, basket size actually grew in the category in July, to nearly 40% above baseline. This was the second straight month of growth for AOV, following a plateau for most of 2021. Conversion rates continued a drop that began in April and remained below the baseline for the second straight month.

Revenues and commissions began to fall after May, and continued to do so in July. However, this matched the trend from a year ago, with revenues roughly the same and commissions actually improving year-over-year.  

Health and Beauty 

Health and beauty is another category that saw new performance peaks in the early part of 2021, likely a result of more social activity and returns to the workplace. Conversions hit a new high in April, at 80% above the benchmark, but dropped to around 40% by July. Clicks hit their highest point in June before also falling a bit in July, ending the month around 20% above the baseline.

Conversions saw a much greater decline than clicks in July, so conversion rates fell. Even though conversion rates are the lowest they’ve been since February of 2020, they are still a healthy 25% above baseline. Even better, average order value is steadily increasing, hitting a new high in July.

Revenues fell in July, but at 90% above baseline, they are still among the highest we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic. Commissions experienced a steeper decline in July, falling about 20%, but still 10% higher YoY, showing that there could be better days ahead for the category if Americans continue to fill out their social calendars.

Home and Garden 

Homebound consumers needed something to do in April 2020, and many chose to improve their houses and yards, as evidenced by Home and Garden conversions peaking that month. Alas, that same fervor for home improvement and yard work hasn’t carried over into 2021. Clicks in July 2021 were roughly the same as they were amid that early spring 2020 burst of activity. Conversions, despite never reaching those same highs again, remained a healthy 40% above the pre-pandemic baseline.

Clicks have been much more in line with conversions throughout 2021, and as a result, conversion rate is finally on an upward trajectory. In July, conversion rates were 15% below baseline — the highest they’ve been since April 2020, and a substantial increase from the -40% nadir in February 2021. AOV came down a bit in July, but remains around 30% above the baseline, after peaking in May.

Revenues and commissions have ping-ponged up and down throughout 2021, failing to maintain growth for two consecutive months. Fortunately, July was an up month, and both metrics set new peaks. Commissions were 225% above the baseline, and revenues were 110% above, showing that the category is still ripe with opportunities.

Telco and Utilities 

The Telco and Utilities category continued negative trends in clicks and conversions in July. Clicks actually stayed flat compared to June, ending a skid that began back in December. Despite stopping the bleeding they remained at the lowest point since Impact began gathering data, 10% below the baseline. Conversions were mostly flat as well, ending a months-long slide of their own. Fortunately, conversions remained 10% above the benchmark.

Add Telco & Utilities to the list of categories reaching new heights in AOV, as the category capped three months of growth to end July at 30% above the benchmark. Conversion rates sank, although at 18% above baseline, they’re much better than what we saw a year ago. 

Higher AOV has kept revenues relatively high in the category throughout 2021, although July marked the third consecutive month of decline. Commissions, meanwhile, are in steady decline, and hit a new low point in July, at 10% below the pre-pandemic baseline.


The travel vertical has waited a long, long time for a return to normal, and we’re finally seeing early signs of recovery. Subcategories like accommodations, vacations, tickets, shows and entertainment have made a rebound and are driving most of the traffic for the Travel vertical. However, transportation is still struggling, as are subcategories such as accommodation and vacations.

Still, overall Travel conversions began an upward trajectory in December that continued through early 2021 before flattening in June and July. Clicks have inched up since the beginning of 2021, but remained flat from March through July. Even with these signs of life, both metrics remain well below the baseline.

Growth in conversions and flat clicks mean that conversion rate has been on a skyward trajectory. The metric peaked in May and fell slightly across June and July, but is still 150% above the baseline. Average order value has been on the upswing as well: it set a new high in June, and remained flat in July, 55% above baseline.

Revenues and commissions have rebounded in 2021. Revenues inched past the pre-pandemic baseline in June before falling back beneath it in July, while commissions have clawed all the way back to 20% below the baseline.  Even though both of those numbers are well below the benchmark established at the beginning of 2020, they are among the highest numbers we’ve seen in well over a year, once again providing a positive sign that a travel rebound is coming.

Brands grapple with an unclear future

Vaccinations, warm weather, and relaxed masking protocols have been greeted as signs of a return to normal life, but growing numbers of infections and hospitalizations associated with the Delta variant have raised anxiety, too. Nearly a year and a half since the pandemic began, it’s still unclear what will happen next. Continued growth and a return to pre-pandemic performance levels may be around the corner, or we could be in for an autumn of closures and travel restrictions once again. No matter what happens, we will continue to track progress in the partnership sector in 2021 and hope for a full recovery.

To see how you can connect with your audiences in authentic and valuable ways through partnerships, reach out to an Impact growth technologist at We’ll help guide you through.

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