How Email Lost the War to Battle-Tested Messaging

The American public has been using email for awhile now—closing in on 50 years.

The rise of email over the last half century opened up whole new communication channels for individuals and businesses alike. But like most things, email only works well in moderation. Unfortunately, email ‘portion control’ has gotten way out of hand thanks to its free nature and ease of access, and there’s been a noticeable trend emerging as consumers have started to move away from using email as their primary mode of communication.

In order to get a better grasp on the issue, Helpshift worked with Radius Global to determine how much Americans trust email. In a survey of over 2,000 American adults, we discovered that the answer was: not much. In fact, nearly three out of five Americans today say they prefer to use mobile messaging (text, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc.) over email because it is more trustworthy. And their actions are even more indicative of a turning tide.


Email open rates are abysmal, usually hovering below 25 percent. Text messages, on the other hand, have open rates that have well surpassed the 95th percentile. So what are the leading causes of this behavioral shift?

1. Spam has infiltrated our inboxes

Back in 2004, Bill Gates pledged to rid the world of spam within two years. Thirteen years later, we’re still all victims at the hands of spammers who have effectively no incentives to change their ways. The boy cried wolf a long time ago, and today we’re numb to most if not all “last chance” and “you need to read this” subject lines, regardless of their validity. Spam is a nuisance at best, an irreparable virus at worst, and has tainted legitimate email marketing beyond repair.

2. There have been too many ‘snooping’ incidents

Yahoo handing your email over to the US government? That’s old news, and unfortunately, we’ve gotten used to it. Email is just too vulnerable as there is no secure technology in place to prevent it being over handed over with a simple subpoena. Yahoo actually developed snooping software to provide requested information to US intelligence officials, and there was nothing the public could do to protect themselves outside of reactively switching email hosts. But even then, it’s impossible to accurately predict when similar situations with other email hosting sites will arise in the future. And especially considering levels of public trust in our current administration, this doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

3. Messaging encryption is proving to be a lot less challenging

The beauty about mobile messaging is that it is end-to-end encrypted. No one can access an iMessage conversation unless they are in physical possession of a connected device. In fact, the encryption is so strong that governments have repeatedly failed to access messaging platforms. A Brazilian court has temporarily banned WhatsApp on several occasions because the company couldn’t provide the chat data requested for government use. Quartz reported last year that “engineers at the chat app say they are unable to access any of the information, even if they are ordered to do so by the court” because of the encryption technology.

Even businesses that depend on the email format of communication with customers are switching to more secure types of messaging over traditional email. Take most banks’ online secure message centers—security is absolutely essential, so they’ve moved away from email towards this ‘secure message’ hybrid that also has end-to-end encryption.

4. Email is not as mobile-friendly

Ninety-two percent of Americans consider smartphones to be their primary device— not their laptops. Messaging platforms were designed specifically for mobile phones, and are much quicker and easier to use on handheld devices. Email apps are still commonly used, but as shown by the open rates mentioned above, opening mobile messages is a no-brainer for most individuals.

What does this mean for business?

According to last year’s ubisend report, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed would rather make initial contact with a company via messaging as opposed to email. Businesses that seize this opportunity to connect with customers via messaging can do so in a variety of ways. They can use social platforms like Facebook Messenger, and in-app messaging platforms that keep customers inside the company’s app. Either way, it’s important to provide maximum convenience and an optimized user experience.

Want to learn more?

Similar Posts