How COVID-19 Will Reshape Holiday 2020: A Primer for Publishers

Oct 8, 2020
Written by Alex Hart

It goes without saying that the pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of life in 2020. The affiliate industry is no exception, and with Q4 already here and the holiday season fast approaching, it’s important for publishers to understand how this virus will impact the busiest time of year.

This article will examine some key trends to look out for during Holiday 2020, and recommendations for how to best work with brands during this challenging time.

Holiday 2020 Outlook

The pandemic has thrown the retail industry into chaos this year. While many in the industry were understandably caught off guard, others have seen great success by being agile and proactive.

To better prepare you for whatever may come in the next few months, the following section will cover the key trends we expect to encounter this holiday season:

Expect a longer holiday season. A trend that started long before COVID-19 is the slow expansion of the holiday shopping calendar. Black Friday has grown from a single day to a full week of promotions, and others are starting even earlier to take advantage of more plentiful publisher inventory. The key difference for 2020 is the rescheduling of Amazon Prime Day from mid-July to October 13. Previously cancelled due to the impact of the virus, Prime Day will now mark the start of the holiday shopping season, with many advertisers choosing to run promotions during that time to take advantage of consumer interest.

Additionally, international shopping holidays have gained momentum outside of their previous markets. The largest example of this is Singles’ Day on November 11. Originally a purely Chinese holiday, Singles’ Day has caught on across APAC, leading more publishers to set up shopping events on their sites and more and more western advertisers to join in with promotions.

With such an expansive holiday calendar this year, publishers should make sure they have ample placement opportunities for the length of the shopping season, starting as early as mid-October. This will help you to better accommodate offers aimed at days earlier in Q4.


Ecommerce will be a winner. With most states still in some form of closure due to community spread of COVID-19, the idea of shoppers cramming into stores on Black Friday seems more like a horror movie than evidence of a booming economy. With safety being such a big factor in consumers’ minds this year, ecommerce will see a huge boost in interest as shoppers choose to buy online and avoid unnecessary risks with in-person shopping. We expect that advertisers will choose to invest more in their ecommerce and affiliate programs. Publishers should be prepared to hear from new partners that may not have invested in holiday placements in years past. Make sure you’re prepared to accommodate them with ample opportunities.

Smaller crowds in stores also means that advertisers who usually run their best offers as “in-store only” during the holiday season will be looking to expand to ecommerce. This could mean that publishers will get the opportunity to promote strong offers that may have been unavailable in years prior. Make sure you’re ready to take advantage of this opportunity.


We may see “revenge shopping”. A post-pandemic rebound in shopping activity in China has been coined “revenge shopping” and we expect to see a similar effect outside of APAC this year. With what feels like the longest year in history still going strong, many are looking for any way to combat the never-ending uncertainty that’s come with living in a pandemic. A popular way to cope in the US is via “retail therapy”—buying things for yourself or others as a way to feel better or gain a semblance of control. Combined with more and more people going back to work, we could see a resurgence of shopping as people treat themselves AND get their holiday shopping done.


CJ Network Vertical Trends and Predictions

We paired historical network trends with experience from the last six months to arrive at predictions for the top-performing verticals in the CJ network during Holiday 2020. Below are the verticals that showed the strongest growth in the CJ network last year, and how we expect them to do this year:



Art/Photo/Music - The vertical with the second-highest growth in the CJ network in 2019 should continue to perform well in 2020. Entertainment has never been more important with so many stuck at home, and many are also taking advantage of their time at home to redecorate.

Food & Drinks - With restaurants still mostly closed, cooking at home has never been more popular. Those looking for a stiff drink to get them through the year will also be looking to wine delivery services. CJ’s top-performing vertical for 2019 should continue to see excellent performance this year.



Recreation & Leisure - The pandemic has been the ruin of countless vacation plans this year. Since most are not comfortable going on a typical vacation to a resort or on a cruise, camping has seen a huge expansion in interest from Americans this year. What’s being billed as the busiest camping season yet means that we can expect much more interest in camping and outdoor gear this holiday season.



Clothing/Apparel - This vertical saw strong growth last year. Unfortunately, with more people staying at home and most in-person events postponed or cancelled for the conceivable future, there are fewer reasons to buy new clothing. We expect to see a slow in growth for apparel this year.

Accessories - Similar to Clothing & Apparel, people will see less need to buy a new watch or jewelry if they can’t wear them out anywhere.


Tips for Publishers Looking to Make the Most of Q4 2020

With all the unique challenges that 2020 has given us, it’s important that you’re as prepared as you can be for Holiday 2020. With the above info in mind, here’s some recommendations for publishers to help ensure a fantastic holiday season:

Be flexible. Uncertainty is the biggest theme of 2020, and there’s no indication that will change anytime soon. With a momentous presidential election less than a month away and a vaccine still out of reach, it’s fair to assume the US is due for additional turmoil. Publishers need to understand that the chaos of this year impacts everyone, and advertisers will be scrambling to make last-minute adjustments to their plans. Be flexible with your partners and be prepared to change promotions and exposure at any time. If possible, make sure you always keep spare inventory in reserve in case advertisers end up with additional budget to spend closer to the holidays.

Create value. Many advertisers have been hit hard by the pandemic, meaning that Q4 budgets may be smaller or more strategically deployed. In order to lock in strong offers, it’s never been more important to be able to give concrete examples of how you’ll be able to drive conversion for your clients. Make sure you understand what KPIs your advertisers are working off this year, as it may be different from prior years, and do your best to give an estimation of performance. Advertisers that may be more precious with their budgets will be more likely to spend with you if they have figures they can use as justification with management.

Drive trust and transparency. Uncertainty in marketing has never been more acute—a trustworthy and transparent partner will ease advertisers’ hesitation with testing strong offers. Be open with your advertisers and let them know what has and has not performed well for their competitors. Do not be afraid to push back if you think a promotion needs to be better—the more you can serve as an expert for your consumers and site, the more likely advertisers will be to work with you.

Think long-term. Relationships are incredibly important in business, and affiliate marketing is no exception. During this tough time, maintaining good relationships is key, and that means thinking beyond Q4. Making long-term decisions could mean taking less in flat fees or commission for this year to better protect your ability to promote with a partner next year. If a placement does not perform as well as you had predicted, don’t be afraid to lock in make-goods for Q1 2021. While these aren’t required, your clients will appreciate it and it can help facilitate cooperation in the future when things (hopefully) get back to normal!

Topics: Retail, Holiday, Covid 19
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