Why should qualitative researchers be interested? Well, her session needs to be taken seriously by all members of the business community, including researchers. The message is that the new, emergent e-consumer is becoming empowered, in control and demanding.

Roberts was joined on the platform by Pearl Assurance ebusiness manager Debbie Mitton, jungle.com marketing director Andy Singleton and e-solutions and services managing director Angus Stewart. Their session was based on the results of six months' worth of research into electronic relationships.

The research sought to discover how marketers explore e-relationships when grappling with their e-strategies, holding four group discussions with senior marketers, and another four groups, plus six accompanied surfs, to explore the issues from the consumer perspective.

What the research discovered was business in revolution. Companies may be struggling to meet existing and future needs of their customers, but it's marketing service agencies, including research, says Roberts, which are the real dinosaurs. They haven't risen to the challenge of adapting to meet the rapidly changing needs of their customers ­ the clients. "When clients in research groups feel it's so bad that they almost want to set up a better type of agency themselves, there is a window of opportunity for someone," she says.

Consumers, meanwhile, are growing increasingly wary of letting businesses know all their details. The study found that they are adopting a range of strategies to avoid imparting information to companies about themselves. The practice of using pseudonyms, aliases, giving false mail addresses or simply avoiding sites which require registration are all phenomena which are becoming increasingly common.

Roberts advises that marketing skills need to be broadened, given that consumers now have the biggest shopping mall in the world on their desktop. Marketers need to become more IT literate, and they need to grasp the new roles of managing partnerships, working collaboratively with their own teams or by developing partnerships with third parties.

She has a final warning for marketers. "Consumers are aware of the plethora of knowledge and almost infinite choice at their disposal," she says, "and they are demanding of excellent service, quality and need fulfilment ­ on their terms, not yours." In this e-era, the customer really will be king. Just watch what they can do, as in the recent fuel crisis, when they mobilise.