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When we last posted Impact’s benchmarks on May 8th, COVID-19 had forced around 90% of the U.S. population into lockdown. Besides having a tremendous economic impact on a number of industries, this also caused an unprecedented shift in consumer demand and shopping behavior. Many consumers had to figure out how to work productively from home and procure goods online in order to limit their mobility.  

We wanted to take a pulse a month later, and see what the data told us about COVID-19’s impact on the partnership channel. Throughout May, many regions in the country started opening up again, while a few urban centers remained under lockdown. Impact’s data scientists went back and updated their week-over-week analysis on six key verticals to see which way  trends have gone. 

Six-week partnership benchmarks — results vary significantly by vertical 

The results vary for partnership programs across different verticals. Partnership programs in some verticals saw a surge in conversions and revenues in April that have largely dissipated in May. Some continue to enjoy higher-than-average performance, but have come down from their April highs. Some programs continue to see metrics outperform at a level comparable to what they had seen throughout April.

Typically, ecommerce sales drop as summer approaches, but the pandemic and protests could be affecting recent data set trends. For example, people are not going outside or on vacation like they have in previous years. When we look at all verticals in aggregate, our data shows the following patterns:

  • Clicks are still above pre-pandemic levels, but have come down from their April highs. 
  • Conversions have come down from their April highs, and overall are now landing below pre-pandemic averages
  • AOV has mostly been erratic, and the data indicates that the pandemic has on average not had much of an impact on this metric
  • Conversion rates were above the baseline in April, but have dropped down to below the pre-pandemic baseline in May
  • Both revenues and commissions have followed a similar arc — rising to great heights in April, but have started to come down significantly in late May.

A recap of the methodology behind the results 

Let’s take a deeper look at what the week-over-week data reveals around the apparel, electronics, flowers & gifts, health & beauty, home & garden and telco & utility verticals.

Impact’s analysis starts on the week of January 5 and goes through to the week of May 31. This timeframe offers a full picture into U.S. consumer behavior from:

  • before the World Health Organization’s announcement of COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11, 
  • the changes during subsequent weeks as states declared stay-at-home orders, and 
  • throughout May when most states started lifting their stay-at-home orders and allowed a number of brick-and-mortar businesses to reopen. 

Our data was pulled using the same cohort of brands across groups, remaining consistent  across each week. We ran a statistical analysis to determine the number of brands to include in each category and identified and filtered out outliers that drove entire categories.

1. Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories 

After a spike in conversions in April, the metric seems to have substantially declined — especially last week — for Apparel, Shoes, and Accessories. Conversion rates have also declined significantly throughout May from its April high. After dropping off in April, AOV has fortunately returned to its pre-COVID levels.

Revenues and commissions started to decline in May and are now at pre-pandemic levels. Last week saw a noticeable drop in both revenues and commissions, but It’s still too early to tell whether this is “noise” or a more systemic change. It may have been a result of more brick-and-mortar stores opening up across the country along with the macroeconomic impact of the pandemic starting to affect households’ wallets.

2. Computers and Electronics 

After seeing sky-high conversions in April, the number of conversions have come back down to earth in May in the Computers and Electronics category. The number of clicks remain high, and as a result, conversion rates have declined. The lockdown caused a surge of spending in Computers and Electronics as people set up their home offices and spent more of their leisure time in front of screens, so we’re probably now seeing a reversion back to the norm. 

Interestingly, AOVs increased dramatically over May: so consumers are purchasing less but have larger basket sizes. This has allowed partnership programs in the Computer and Electronics category to maintain heightened revenues and commissions throughout most of May over and above their pre-pandemic performance.

3. Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink

Unsurprisingly, in the Flowers, Gifts, Food, and Drink category, major metrics like conversions, conversion rate, clicks, revenues, and commissions all experienced a spike leading up to Mother’s Day — significantly higher than the spike from Valentine’s Day. 

Though conversions and conversion rates dropped significantly throughout the rest of May, revenues still remain ~50% above pre-pandemic levels. Commissions are back to pre-pandemic levels. Importantly, AOV continues to hover at its highest levels all throughout April and May.

4. Health and Beauty 

Despite the relaxation of lockdowns, conversions and conversion rates for partnership programs in the health and beauty vertical remained high in May — though slightly lower compared to the levels achieved at the start of lockdowns in April.  Partnership program revenues have been steadily declining in May, but it is still ~40% up from the start of the year, while commissions dropped back down to pre-pandemic levels toward the latter half of May.

5. Home and Garden 

Clicks and AOV for partnership programs in the home and garden space were down in the start of June, compared to the highs it enjoyed throughout most of May. However, conversions and conversion rates were down in May compared to April’s numbers, with conversion rate cratering during most of May. The high number of clicks point to a great degree of interest in this vertical — likely caused by a combination of seasonality and the lockdowns — but home and garden retailers have not been as successful as they would like in converting those interested audiences into customers.

Nonetheless, revenue and commissions remained high throughout most of May, but saw a significant drop last week.

6. Telco and Utilities

Telcos and Utilities partnership programs have done very well throughout this pandemic — with clicks, conversions, conversion rate, revenues, and commissions all still riding relatively high since the start of the lockdowns. AOVs enjoyed an uptick in May, compared to their lower-than-average value throughout April.

With lockdowns ending and moving season ramping up, it’s likely that partnership programs in this sector will continue to enjoy above-average performance.

Partnerships during times of uncertainty

Though all states are now open for business, we are still very far from a sense of normal. Many digital habits learned during the lockdown period will not be “unlearned” — and the stay-at-home orders have accelerated the adoption of digital commerce and services among even the most technologically laggard consumers. 

Consumers are also still limiting their mobility to locations such as retailers and workplaces, preferring outdoor spaces like parks, according to Google’s latest U.S. mobility reports. This means people will continue to look to digital commerce over physical commerce for at least the near-term future.

During periods of uncertainty, people tend to look for information to help them navigate uncharted waters. Enterprises that double down on their partnership programs and forge new partnerships with subject matter experts, affiliates, influencers, and other media sources that consumers trust are likely to weather this period of economic uncertainty better than their peers. And Partnership Automation™ technologies like the Impact Partnership Cloud™ are central to ensuring that your partnerships are optimized to their fullest potential.

To be ready for anything and everything that comes your way during tumultuous times, reach out to an Impact growth technologist at grow@impact.com. We can help guide you through. 

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