Revolving E-Mail Addresses Undermine Marketing Efforts

E-mail marketing efforts are being seriously undermined by frequent consumer email address changes, according to a survey by NFO WorldGroup, which found that less than one-third of consumers regularly notify sites and newsletters of their address change.

The survey, commissioned by Return Path Inc., found that 41 percent of consumers have changed an email address at least once in the last two years, including 15 percent that changed email addresses two or more times in the last two years.

Not all the news is bad for marketers trying to reach consumers by email. The survey also found that consumers are becoming heavier email users. Eighty-three percent of consumers access email for work purposes at least once a day; 82 percent access email for personal purposes at least once a day; and 53 percent check email at least once a day for school purposes.

The rate of adoption of permission-based commercial email also continues to grow, the survey found. Ninety-six percent of consumers who are registered at a Web site or online organization have requested email from businesses (mostly newsletters, Web sites, and discussion groups), with the average consumer receiving permission-based email from approximately six businesses. Despite the widespread acceptance of permission-based commercial email, 78 percent of consumers believe they are receiving email that they did not request from an organization.

The leading cause for email address changes were ISP switches, although consumers also cited job changes, school graduations, and privacy concerns as other reasons for making a change. Of the consumers surveyed who had never changed email addresses, many avoided changes because of the difficulties associated with making a change: 36 percent were deterred from changes because they felt there were too many people to update; 17 percent thought it would be too time consuming; 10 percent cited too many businesses to update; and 6 percent said they didn’t know how to change their email address.

For those consumers who did change their email address, the process was cumbersome and incomplete. Only 37 percent of consumers notified any regularly visited Web sites of a change in email address; 31 percent notified businesses that regularly send them email; 24 percent notified Web sites where they make regular purchases; and 16 percent notified discussion lists/groups. Less than half (46 percent)of consumers that did notify businesses of a change of email address did so by sending an email; and 40 percent did so by visiting their Web sites.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of consumers report owning multiple email addresses, the survey found, with an average of 2.6 per consumer. Those with multiple email addresses tend to have specific email addresses for any or all of work/school, home, Web-based subscriptions and promotions, and a constant address in case they change jobs or schools.

“Clearly, there is no standard process for changing an email address that resembles the U.S. Postal Service’s system for changing a physical mailing address,” said Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path. “With yearly email churn rates, which could be as high as 32 percent according to Return Path’s data, businesses who rely on email to communicate with their customers and drive advertising and commerce are experiencing millions of dollars in foregone revenue opportunities and wasted marketing expense.”

The state of the economy is also playing a role in the revolving door of email addresses. Layoffs in the high-tech sector have caused email address changes among some of the Net’s heaviest email users. According to the annual Job Satisfaction Survey from CareerBuilder, nearly 40 percent of U.S. workers are going to be seeking new job opportunities in 2001. Seventy percent of those planning on changing jobs plan to do so in the next six months.

The NFO WorldGroup/Return Path survey was based on results from 1,912 consumers representing a cross-section of U.S. online households, including male and female Internet users age 18 and over who own PCs and have Internet access.

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