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New findings in the ‘Road to Recovery’ from Rakuten Advertising, the global leader in performance marketing, media and consumer insights, highlight that almost half (49%) of affiliate publishers have seen site traffic increase since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of publishers (44%) also expect traffic levels for the 2020 peak shopping period to exceed pre-COVID-19 levels.  

 

The research, which surveyed Rakuten Advertising’s global network of publishers, reveals that publishers are supporting advertisers during this uncertain time. The majority (72%) have not made changes to the cost of placements and inventory on their site since the start of the pandemic, keeping costs the same for affiliate advertisers.  

 

When asked how they have adapted their day-to-day operations in light of the pandemic, over a third of publishers (34%) said that they are offering additional opportunities to advertisers for the same price or better commission rates, followed by creation of new inventory and campaigns (27%).  

 

Shift to short term planning 
 

The research found that over a third (37%) of publishers expect commissions to stay the same over this year’s peak shopping period. While almost three quarters (72%) of publishers said that advertisers are committing to paid relationships over the Golden Quarter, the majority (70%) of publishers noted that advertisers are only committing to short term plans (1-3 months). 

 

The shift to short term planning was cited as the biggest change from 2019 to 2020 in terms of commitment from advertisers (62%). Publishers also noted that advertisers are spending less money on campaigns (43%) and that they need to be able to adapt campaigns more quickly (37%).  

 

Anthony Capano, Managing Director, International, at Rakuten Advertising comments, “There has been a real rebound in consumer spending in recent months due to pent up demand, and advertisers can clearly see the opportunity over the peak shopping period. However, they are more uncertain about the road to recovery and are planning 2021 campaigns conservatively. Next year publishers will be working in a way which lends itself to pivoting quickly based on changing consumer behaviours and advertisers will need to be prepared to adapt.” 

 

Publishers are shaking up their strategies  

 

In an effort to navigate the challenges posed by short term planning, publishers are rethinking their strategies. To boost sales, publishers intend to offer partnership incentives to advertisers (44%) and to invest more in relationships with affiliate networks (44%).  

 

Almost two thirds (62%) of respondents are introducing new innovative features to their site or app to try to increase traffic over the peak shopping period, and almost a third (34%) are using specific calls to action on their site or app to try and increase conversions. 

 

In addition to website and app improvements, almost half (47%) of publishers are using social media to increase traffic over the peak shopping period, with many also leveraging email marketing (43%) and paid search (27%) options.  
 

When asked which online channels delivered an increase in referral traffic since the start of COVID-19, the majority of publishers cited organic (48%), followed by social (34%) and mobile (29%).  

 

Publishers look to boost sales through deals and discounts 

 

Over half (58%) of publishers said that focusing more on discount, deals and offers was the strategy driving the most engagement from visitors to their site since the start of the pandemic. 38% found creating more personalised content for the audience to be effective, whereas 27% chose to focus on advertiser categories that are trending, such as gaming, home furnishing and beauty. 

 

Interestingly, 10% of publishers also said that they are partnering with advertisers that are focusing on brand advocacy and purpose-driven causes.  

 

Advertisers change tactics in response to shopper behaviour  

 

Not only are advertisers focusing on short term planning, they’re switching up how they spend on campaigns. Publishers that are seeing an increase in spend said that advertisers want to pay for this primarily through flat fee paid placement (46%), with 37% say they would like to pay via a commission increase. The majority (77%) of publishers also reported seeing stronger performance from advertisers that are investing more in the affiliate channel. 

 

Like advertisers, consumers are savvy about their spending 

 

Rakuten Advertising network data shows coupons and voucher sites remained popular through the pandemic and continue to be used. In addition, after moving away from reward and loyalty sites during the peak of the pandemic, consumers are once again turning to reward and loyalty sites as they become more comfortable returning to life out of lockdown.  

 

Capano adds; “Consumers may be shopping smarter, but they’re still shopping, which is positive news for publishers and advertisers alike as we move into the Golden Quarter. As brands look to recoup lost sales from earlier in the year the peak shopping period is a big opportunity to engage shoppers and drive results. What’s also clear is that the industry needs to work together to thrive in its recovery. The holiday period is a great opportunity to inspire customers so they keep coming back next year, and innovative partnerships between advertisers and publishers can enable this.”  

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