Email battles social networks for consumers' attention

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on July 30, 2010

While consumers are increasingly using social media web sites such as Twitter and Facebook, marketers still need to focus on targeted and relevant email marketing for continued e-commerce success, warns a research report by Econsultancy.

According to the report, entitled 'How We Shop in 2010: Habits and Motivations of Consumers', social network adoption and its influence on e-commerce is still far from maturity, as more than a third of consumers (38%) do not yet use a social profile web site, and only 6% asked for recommendations on social sites during their most recent product search.

For a range of different types of commerce-related messaging, including vouchers, special offers and delivery notices, notification via social media falls behind more established methods of communication such as email and postal mail.

The research focused on how people prefer to interact with e-commerce brands, how they conduct product research, and the relative importance of different factors in the decision-making process leading up to an online purchase. It found that the internet has dramatically changed consumer shopping habits, with product research and customer service emerging as key pillars of successful e-commerce.

The study highlighted the continuing importance of targeted and relevant email marketing, as half of the consumers surveyed (50%) reported that irrelevant information devalued emails they received, and 50% said that marketing emails weren't considered valuable because there was often "no special advantage" to receiving them.

More than one third of respondents (36%) said that receiving an email had prompted them to make a purchase online, while just over one quarter (27%) reported that an email had been the cause of an offline purchase.

The report concluded that online product research contributes to a far larger percentage of total retail than the 8% directly attributed to e-commerce, while the evolving nature of digital interaction and customer service is changing the fundamental relationship between companies and consumers.

"The winners will be those who use digital communications most effectively, to influence and enable both online and offline purchases," explained Econsultancy's UK research director, Linus Gregoriadis. "Despite the rise of social media, the role of the email channel is secure. Email is extremely effective as long as companies are targeted and relevant when communicating with consumers. Companies need to use both channels in an appropriate way, and can regard email as 'social media glue' - it's not a choice between the two."

But, although the social media channel has not yet matured, it is clear that this type of marketing has an increasingly important role to play, especially for younger consumers. Those in the 18-26 age bracket are far more receptive than older groups to communication and customer service through social media.

When it comes to advertising messages, email notification is the preferred way for almost two thirds of consumers (61%) to receive promotional material for sales and specials, compared to 28% who said postal mail and only 5% who said social sites.

Among the report's other key findings:

  • The younger the audience, the more mistrust there is toward advertising. However, the majority of consumers appreciate receiving advertising messages when it is directly beneficial to them, such as receiving a discount on a product or service (57%).
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61%) said that they use search engines to help them in their shopping research decisions.
  • Almost half of respondents (47%) use information websites, while 45% use online retailers' websites such as Amazon.
  • Consumers are increasingly reliant on the internet as a primary research tool, with relatively few respondents using magazines (19%) and catalogues (14%) for their research.

Consumers were also asked about their priorities when making a purchase. A warranty or guarantee came out as the most important criterion, closely followed by style or design, and brand name. The least important priority was the price, suggesting that consumers are willing to pay a premium for a product or service that they want and that fully matches their requirements.

Although we now live in a technologically advanced society, large numbers of consumers do not yet engage in a range of digital activities which are becoming quite common for so-called 'early adopters'. For example, 82% of consumers said they have not paid to download a film or television programme, while 72% have never checked their email using a mobile device, and 65% do not access the internet using a mobile device.

The complete report can be purchased directly from Econsultancy's web site - click here.

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