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Email is dying, again. If you didn't know this, you must have been waiting for the email.

According to comScore, usage of web-based email plummeted again last year, and that means that the "email is dying" crowd is out in full force, once again promoting the notion that the mobile phone and social media are making email irrelevant.

comScore's numbers are pretty dramatic: usage was down nearly 60% amongst teens aged 12 to 17, and dropped 18% for those aged 18 to 25. Even 'older' folks got into the act, with usage amongst 35 to 40 year olds and 45 to 54 year olds declining 8% and 12%, respectively.

But does this really mean that email is dying a not-so-slow death? If you just like numbers without context, yes. If you actually care about analysis, the story is much more interesting.

First, it's important to note that comScore's figures cover web-based email. Although web-based email is still very popular, it's natural to expect that as internet users become more sophisticated, a greater number of them will access email through non-web-based applications. Second, using teens and young adults as a proxy for email usage is not necessarily a good idea given that many of these users have yet to enter the ranks of the employed, where they will inevitably find that email is still very much a necessity.

But recognizing these things, even if we assume that email has generally seen a decline in usage, it doesn't mean that email is dying. That's because for email to 'die', it has to decline to the point at which it has no meaning or value. That's not the case. What has really happened:

  • New communications channels have given individuals the ability to communicate more efficiently. Thanks to SMS, Facebook, Twitter, et. al., internet users don't have to send an email when another channel is better-suited to deliver a particular kind of message. In other words, email doesn't have a monopoly on digital communications. Needless to say, that's a good thing.
  • New communications channels have created more opportunities for communication. Messages that may not have been sent previously are now being sent because the right kinds of tools exist. Take status updates, for instance. Chances are the vast majority of status updates sent via Facebook and Twitter never would have been sent via email.

Both of these are actually good for email. Instead of treating digital communications like a nail for which the hammer is the only tool worth using, email is now just one tool that can be used where appropriate. That means a lot less noise, and a lot more focus.

One need only look at online retail to see the implications of this. Numerous studies have shown that email is still one of the most effective ways to drive online and offline sales, and is the preferred method by which consumers are notified of offers. That's obviously good news for retailers.

At the same time, for all of the hoopla around new communications channels like Facebook, it's worth noting that only 3% of traffic to online retail sites comes from social media. Which begs the question: which channel has more value? It's sort of a trick question, of course, because each retailer targets different segments of the consumer population. But most retailers would probably tell you that their ROI, both as an absolute dollar amount and a percentage return, from email marketing still far exceeds social media at the moment.

At the end of the day, the message here is clear: as technology changes, so too will user behavior and usage patterns. That means there will be numeric shifts in channel usage. Listening to those who focus on those numbers without quantifying the value of the channels in question is not only downright foolish, it's also downright dangerous when key business decisions are being made.

Photo credit: smemon87 via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 9 February, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2380 more posts from this author

Comments (26)

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Kenny Van Beeck

Is it death again, damn. Seriously this discussion is been going on for ages now. Yes, I agree, that new channels have come up and are certainly increasing, but shouldn't we look and talk about the synergy between email, social and what else will follow.

If I'm not mistaking, you still need an email to login to Twitter and Facebook. You still get notifies via email for updated info and new followers.

If email is death, why is Facebook building is own and is Windows Live allowing javascripting again in the email clients?

The real message is that after email reputation, social reputation will increase and will be necessary to survive. Just look eg @ the priority mailbox of Gmail.

Please feel free to respond.

over 5 years ago

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Jenni

All these 'X is dead!' things are so tedious. HTML is dead, Flash is dead, the web is dead, email is dead...on and on and on. It's up there with the 'Facebook is shutting down' and 'Facebook is charging' rubbish in my mind.

over 5 years ago

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Kendra, Bookmark Submission

I too believe that email will not 'die', no matter what happens. Personally, I have social networking accounts like facebook and twitter but I still use email. I don't like the 'public' profile of facebook where you can see everyone talking, I still using email. Yes, users may decline but there are still those that remain loyal to email like me.

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Two points...

1. If you think email is dead or dying you are crazy. Most retailers will tell you it's still the one sure-fire thing that drives sales. It is still incredibly effective. If it isn't working for you then you're doing it wrong.

2. Mobile email usage is skyrocketing. In fact comScore's own numbers show that about 30% of American mobile users regularly access email via smartphones / mobile devices: http://emailexpert.org/43-million-americans-use-mobile-email-every-day/

over 5 years ago

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Hernan

When email starts smelling bad let me know, I will die first for sure….

over 5 years ago

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Jeffrey K. Rohrs

Thank you, thank you, thank you for debunking this latest "email is dying" meme. As you rightly point out, the fault isn't with comScore who reported huge growth in mobile email usage--it's with lazy blogs/reporters (looking at you TechCrunch) who ignore half the data to sensationalize the erosion of webmail (Gmail, Hotmail & Yahoo Mail). Mind you, those aren't eroding in terms of mobile usage--just laptop & desktop.

We actually asked consumers last year if their overall email usage (webmail, business & mobile) was up or down (Apr 2010 v. October 2009), and in EVERY SINGLE AGE GROUP, email usage was up. If anyone's interested, you can find that chart in #7 of our SUBSCRIBERS, FANS & FOLLOWERS reports entitled "Social Mythbusting": http://www.exacttarget.com/sff/research_part7.html.

We'll be asking the question again later this year, so stay tuned for updated results.

Keep up the good work & debunking misinformation!

over 5 years ago

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Glenn

Very valid points in both the post and the comments. Y'know, they said the same thing about radio AND the movies when television was invented. Didn't happen. In radio's case, it reinvented itself into what is now primarily music and talk formats (compared to the entertainment shows of the 30's). The movies adopted technology such as Cinemascope and the first version of 3D.

over 5 years ago

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Steve

But how will i know when stores are having a sale going on?

over 5 years ago

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Mike Downer

The email is dead. Long live the email!

over 5 years ago

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Elliot Ross

yes that's right, email is dead, nothing to see here. Go and try monetize some 'likes'... :)

over 5 years ago

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Shirley Harding

If e-mail is dead why do people keep sending me e-mails to tell me this?

over 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Good post Patricio.

Email has died so many time and been resurrected, I'm surprised it doesn't have its own religion, shrines and hysterical followers.

Just because numbers decline doesn't mean a zenith has been reached. Perhaps the drop in numbers can also be contributed to a spike in quality; people, especially younger audiences, are doing more of their social and background chatting via more interactive media and email is becoming more targeted.

I know many retailers and B2B companies who still find email one of the most profitable channels. It can also be excellent for non-revenue based activities such as relationship building and gathering feedback.

If email is dead then the data I've seen must have been a shocking propaganda stunt by the cunning email marketing peeps who hacked into analytics tools and tricked us all.

thanks
james

over 5 years ago

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G. Rimreaper

Email is death :-|=

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

To be fair, the TechCrunch piece (and comScore data) said that email is 'declining' in use among teens. Which is true.

over 5 years ago

Ben Sidebottom

Ben Sidebottom, Media Systems Manager at Essence

Absolutely, good review. We are also heading into an app based world with internet content no longer being consumed by web browsers, but instead, apps! Apple with their new app store for their Mac OS and new set top boxes that allow you to download apps to consume other media such as YouTube and BBC iPlayer are key examples of this. Maybe its the death of web browsers instead...

over 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Adam,

comScore's numbers show a decline in *web* mail usage amongst teens.

The problem with TechCrunch's piece is that there's no cogent analysis of what this actually means, and the not-so-subtle implication is that email is being beat out by social media. I think the comments in response to TechCrunch's post speak for themselves.

over 5 years ago

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will

Rubbish.... It peaked now its coming back down. Email will probably out live me and you. Perhaps certain technologies behind it will be replaced over time, but the concept of email isnt going anywhere.

"Electronic mail, most commonly abbreviated email and e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages. ..."

You could say that FB private message's are already email. You can send messages, you can attach a image etc, they are private (well to some extent!)

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

For teens, email mainly is webmail. And they aren't using it as much as they used to because of other forms of messaging. Email certainly isn't dying, but its use among teens is declining.

over 5 years ago

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David Sparks

The email is not dead, it is only sleeping. Social websites are in no way in a position to replace the many functions of email. Email plays a central role in the day to day operations of industries. How will social websites replace that?

over 5 years ago

Mark Patron

Mark Patron, Consultant and non-exec director at Patron Direct LtdEnterprise

Great post Patricio, as with so many of these things the new channels are really augmenting the established channels

over 5 years ago

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Luci Rocha

Valid points here but sorry e-mail is not dead and it will not be just like phone calls and letters didn't die with the arrival of e-mail.

Yes the e-mails reduced but this is due to people realising there are more appropriate means for communication depending on the subject. Nobody would ask a 1 sentence question on an e-mail (as it is really a waste of time) but nobody would tweet a long personal message or disclose personal information or an image they only want to seen by 1 person. You probably would not find appropriate to tweet a contract either.

So let's leave facebook to facebook, twites for quick messages, letters for formal and personal stuff, phones to be in REAL touch with people and e-mail for things that could be done with a letter but needs to be faster.
There is always a place for everyone ;-)

over 5 years ago

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John Rizzi

While web based e-mail usage is down, for me the key take-away from this report is the mandate for e-mail marketers to optimize their messages for mobile phones. comScore found that 30% of respondents are viewing e-mail on their mobile device while 78% of smartphone users are reading e-mails on their device. Getting ahead of this trend now can really be a benefit in the coming one to two years.

For more of my interpretation on the data check out my post on TheRelevantMarketer.com

over 5 years ago

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popspace

very nice I like it

over 5 years ago

Kevin Galway

Kevin Galway, Owner at Ecommerce Consultancy

@ James

Good response. Email will fluctuate as trends do, what e-tailers need to do is embrace the overall offering of the various communication channels open to them with their customers.

Email marketing / social media / mobile etc can all play a very crucial part in the life cycle of a customer with a brand/site.

Returns may be less with channels such as email compared to a couple of years ago, but the playing field has also changed.

Email isn't dead, new channels have come along, the goal posts have shifted ever so slightly, that's all.

over 5 years ago

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Lawrie

Does anyone know where I can plug my FAX in ???

Like all tech it eventually finds its level.
Enjoyed the read.

over 5 years ago

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Name Tag

Dead? I get hundreds of emails a day!
Great read!

about 5 years ago

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