E-mail can’t beat the ‘human touch’

E-mail may be the most cost-effective form of direct marketing for small businesses on a tight budget, but it's no substitute for the personal approach.

The proportion of internet users who choose e-mail as their preferred means of communication has fallen to an all-time low of just 5% according to the latest Which? Online internet survey. It was 19% in the 1999 survey. In contrast, in spite of a steady flow of new internet users – almost one in three surfers logged on over the last twelve months, “a very similar proportion to last year” – two thirds of them prefer face-to-face interaction. Even Silver Surfers (the over-55’s), who are some of e-mail’s biggest fans, still prefer the human touch.

The telephone was similarly rejected, with only one in five users favouring this means of communication. A minority favoured “snail mail,” and only 1 in 25 preferred to use a mobile telephone over other methods. The survey illustrated the preference for face-to-face meetings “across all demographic groups,” and text messaging is seen as “the domain of the under 35s.”

Take up of the internet has now increased to 36% of the British public, which means that there is now more than 16 million people going on-line. There has also been a big increase in the number of female users – 45% of all surfers are now women. “A broader spectrum of the UK population is online than ever before,” commented the head of Which? Online, Paul Kitchen. “Our survey shows that most people believe that the Internet is becoming part of everyday life.”

Although not top of the list like last year, e-mail remains the second most popular reason for using the internet, to stay in touch with friends and family. As such, direct marketers still stand an extremely good chance of catching a potential consumer’s eye, as they scan their e-mail inbox. But following up that initial contact with a friendly phone call, letter or visit may clinch the deal.

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