Study: More Than Half of Shoppers Across All Generations Prefer Email Communications

Customer communication is undoubtedly important. When consumers receive communications from a company, 96% feel loyal to the brand and 84% engage with its advertising. But the difference between a message that’s welcome and one that’s an intrusive annoyance differs between both generations and platforms, according to a study by Data Axle.

Retailers need to engage with shoppers in terms of generational preferences, individual expectations and preferred messaging platforms. And while there is no shortcut to personalization — which 81% of all consumers desire in their communications — retailers can use broader information to fine-tune the messages on a larger scale before adding personalized offers and messages.

Some of the key takeaways from the study include:

  • Send the right message for the right channel: Shoppers across generations are flooded with messages across multiple platforms, so retailers must take steps to ensure they’re sending relevant, personalized outreach;
  • Email is a universal medium: Email has developed a poor reputation in recent years, but Data Axle found that it was the top communication channel for every generation except Gen Z, and a majority of that cohort still mostly liked receiving email messages;
  • Quality and reputation create loyalty together: Retailers need to lay the groundwork of building loyalty before their communication is truly effective, and offering quality products alongside a strong brand reputation is an effective loyalty driver across generations;

Send the Right Communication to the Right Person in the Right Channel

While loyal customers are open to communication, that doesn’t mean marketers have free rein to flood them with promotions. Retailers need to carefully pick and choose when and how they contact shoppers to ensure they’re only sending things that resonate with their desires — whether it’s a coupon for an upcoming sale or a chance to vote in a new product development contest. This lesson applies across generations.


“The average person gets about 10,000 messages a day,” said Stacia Goddard, SVP of Strategy and Consulting at Data Axle in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “A large percentage of those are marketing communications across multiple devices: walking by billboards, seeing something on your phone or your TV, etc. A certain percentage of them are your friends or your family sending you things. People have zero interest in brands they don’t care about or brands that don’t connect to their values. Being able to use data in a way that allows you to personally send them a message that is relevant and meaningful based on their interests and also resonates with their values is important.”

The right message can differ from channel to channel as well as person to person. For example, the most successful social media campaigns don’t use promotional messaging but focus on the brand and its values in ways that resonate with the community. There’s a time and a place for every kind of messaging, but marketers must understand both the recipient and the channel and direct their efforts accordingly.

“One of the top things that people want is offers and promotions — things that respect their dollar and their budget,” said Goddard. “But I don’t know that social media is the place that you want to put a message out that’s so promotional. I think email is a better place for that.”

Email is the New Home Address

Marketers are wary about email due to years of clogged inboxes and messages sent straight to the spam folder. However, even younger generations appreciate messages sent through this channel: 64% of millennials and 56% of Gen Z prefer to be contacted through their inboxes, as do 58% of Baby Boomers and 53% of Gen X.

“I think the importance of email is really eye-opening here,” said Goddard. “To me, email is the new address. Postal is wonderful, having their home addresses is great, but I think to really get to people today wherever they are you have to have their email address. I think that’s critical to reaching the younger generations.”

Goddard noted that Gen Z’s reputation as digital natives can lead marketers to think that older channels like email are unappealing to them. However, email offers an excellent place for brands to tell the stories around their commitments to social and environmental initiatives — something Gen Z truly appreciates.

“There was a period of time where email was going to go away and millennials were not going to be interested in it, and certainly not Gen Z, but that’s not the case,” said Goddard. “There are actually more Gen Z people who respond and engage with brands via email then Gen X.”

Unsurprisingly, social media is still the place to connect with Gen Z, with 63% preferring communications through that channel. However, social hasn’t quite achieved the universal appeal that email offers: preferences for it fall to 47% among millennials, 35% among Gen Z and 20% among Baby Boomers. Pro tip: it’s still a very important channel, but as noted it’s not suited for all forms of communication.

Younger Shoppers Look for Quality and Reputation Together

While communication is a valuable tool for retaining loyalty among customers, the groundwork for that loyalty needs to be firmly established. Many consumers first develop a strong relationship with a retailer by engaging with a transaction first, so brands need to be ready to “wow” them even before they start sending personalized messages.

Baby Boomers are the generation most likely to trust a brand for offering a quality product, at 84%. However, the degree of trust remains high across the entire age spectrum: 73% among Gen Z, 72% among millennials and 69% among Gen Z.

In contrast, while brand reputation can seem nice to have, it’s just not as vital as product quality. Just 31% of millennials and 36% of Gen X put a lot of stock in a company’s reputation. This also is one area where Baby Boomers and Gen Z converge, at 41% and 42% respectively, but the importance of brand reputation never cracks the halfway mark among any age demographic.

However, retailers shouldn’t look at either of these metrics in a vacuum. Gen Z and younger millennials in particular were raised by their parents to research purchases from multiple angles, including both the product and the company selling it. Retailers that can deliver on both aspects will develop more loyalty with shoppers than those that focus on just one.

“The quality of the product and the quality of the company go hand in hand for both the millennial and the Gen Z generation,” said Goddard. “They rely a lot on information from their peers, and often reviews from other customers or consumers. They value those more than just what the brand itself tells you and its marketing.”

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