Email has been hailed as the ubiquitous form of communication, something which executives cannot live without. However, according to JupiterResearch, email is not without competition and is currently undergoing a downturn of its own. The medium is facing an onslaught from new media like social networks and even from text message and mobile phone communication. In addition, email, says the research firm, is steadily coming under pressure from disenchantment with email proliferation and irrelevance of the medium.

Indeed, a recent report from Jupiter-Research shows that permission-based email marketing is starting to lose its shine. According to the study, in 2008, 44% of email users purchased online as a result of promotional emails, while 41% made an offline purchase. While this might seem like a high number, the fact is that both these numbers reflecta decline from 2007, when 51% made an online purchase while 47 percent went offline. In addition, after years of seeing stable volumes of consumer-reported email for their primary, personal email accounts, this year's survey revealed a decline. According to JupiterResearch, email users now report receiving a daily average of 24 email messages of all types (including friends/family, opt-in, work/school, spam and other) in these primary accounts--down from 41 per day in 2006. This is a pretty huge drop. JupiterResearch attributes the fall in overall email volume partially to a decrease in spam messages.

However, analysts say the declines also point to shifting communication channel usage patterns, particularly among young consumers.

For example, younger consumers (those between the age of 18-24) tend to rely mainly on text messages while via social networks, they receive on 12 emails per day. However, email is still the way to go for the older generation: 45-54 year olds tend to get an average of 28 emails per day. However, this is nothing to shout about as the older age group demographic is also seeing a dramatic decline – in fact, those aged 55 or older who reported receiving 31 or more emails per day has declined from 42% in 2006 to 24% now.

David Schatsky, president of Jupiter-Research has this advice for marketers: “Consumers are using other forms of communication and marketers must therefore ensure their strategies adapt to consumers' changing behavior.”

He also cautions marketers to address the other worrying trends in the email marketplace especially the lack of relevance of emails which continues to be the top reason for unsubscribing. In fact, the firm’s research shows that 50% of total email users report that they unsubscribe when the offers/types of content do not interest them. In particular, marketers have to pay attention to the fact that the percentage who unsubscribe from irrelevant messages is even higher among those who have made four or more online purchases during the past 12 months: 60%.

The second-highest driver of unsubscribes is frequency.

If you send your emails out too frequently, beware: 37% percent of all users say they unsubscribe when they receive emails from a sender "too often." It’s also no surprise then that 33% report that they unsubscribe from offers because they get "too much" email.

Furthermore, 39% say they believe that signing up for permission-based email leads to getting more spam email while 30% state they don't trust that the unsubscribe link in email offers work. Scarily, 26% reveal that they use the spam button to unsubscribe.

Explaining these above trends in greater detail, David Daniels, VP, research director, JupiterResearch and lead analyst of the company’s report entitled "The Social and Portable Inbox: Optimizing E-mail Marketing in the New Era of Communication Tools" shares, "Consumers' confidence in email have become shaken by irrelevant communications and high message frequency, which are top drivers of subscribers' churn and channel scepticism. Their behavior and attitudes are driven by the unfettered volume of spray-and-pray untargeted email offers, blurring the distinction between spam and permission-based email.”

He warns that it has never been more important than now for marketers to ensure they are sending relevant email responsibly.