Ben & Jerry’s made news last week with the announcement that it is abandoning email marketing. Instead, the ice cream maker will communicate with U.K. customers via social media exclusively. But there’s a large market of consumers they’ll be abandoning in the process.

According to Econsultancy’s latest report, How We Shop in 2010: Habits and Motivations of Consumers, email marketing is still the way that consumers prefer to receive digital deals and correspondence. That’s potentially a lot of ice cream offers that could go uneaten.

How We Shop in 2010” is the result of interviews with 1,400 U.S. consumers, and focused on how people prefer to communicate with e-commerce brands.

Brands are right to think that consumers are moving more of their purchasing decisions into social media. The study found that respondents between the ages of 18 and 26 were more receptive to communication and customer service through social media, but abandoning old routes of communication could be problematic. According to the study, 61% of all respondents prefer to receive promotional sales and deals via email.

Of those surveyed, 36% said receiving an email led to an online purchase while 27% said the same about offline purchases. But email marketers could stand to step up their game. Half of respondents said irrelevant material devalued emails, and 50% also said they found no value in emails unless they sent a “special advantage.”

In the U.S., 55% of those surveyed said that a product with a high rating in social networks would increase their purchase intent, but consumers over 38 are much less likely to go to social networks looking for information about a product or recommendations.

Email is losing some ground. Among those under 39 years of age, email is the most preferred communication route. But a small but significant part of that same group
(18-38) prefer to receive sales info through social profile sites.

Older consumers may not yet see the value of social sites. Perhaps their behaviors will change in the next few years. But for now, they are not signed onto digital communications. Consumers over 55 still prefer offline methods of receiving information.

Young people still use email as a personal database for company communications. They like it for things like receipts and shipping notices, advertising and coupons.

Of consumers in the 18-26 year-old age group, 38% use emailed coupons online, but the study found that consumers between the age of 27 and 38 are most dependant on e-commerce.

According to Econsultancy’s US Research Director, Stefan Tornquist:

“Email continues to be the desired channel for many types of commercial communication. Social networking and its effect on the nature of brand is the hottest topic in digital marketing, and deservedly so. It’s still worthwhile for marketers to remember that social network adoption is far from maturity.”