Generating more sales is the ultimate purpose of any for-profit company. Either building a better workforce, or innovating offerings, or penetrating new markets can help to achieve that, but the optimal choice for US/UK merchants is to look for demands in new regions.
These two markets seem to be the most challenging worldwide. Therefore, if you have been successful in the States and in Britain, you are likely to have a proficient team with an almost perfect product. Then, market expansion is the next step to boost sales. With the blossom of e-commerce, it’s also getting way easier to target consumers on the other side of the globe.
In our Market Insights series, we will examine and analyze some potential markets for retail businesses, especially Shopify merchants in the US/UK, to expand to. Today, we keep the focus on online shopping in Germany - the No.3 country for e-commerce revenue in Europe - and German consumer behaviors. We will also present the pros and cons of expansion into Germany and suggest some next steps. Let's jump right in!
The current state of e-commerce in Germany
To see if Germany is a potential market for your business, you need to look at the market size and the future scenario.
Performance in recent years
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Germany was in the 5th position for e-commerce in the world with a total revenue of €72.6 billion. The hit of the global pandemic with “stay-at-home" orders has pushed online shopping in Germany even further. In 2020, e-commerce in Germany was worth €83.3 billion, surpassing the average growth rate of 11.3% in the past 3 years by 3%. The significant YOY increase is predicted to be prolonged and amplified to more than €141 billion in 2024.
The online purchasing power of German shoppers is immense with E-commerce spending per capita of €1,530 in 2020 (Source: Ecommerce Germany)
Those impressive statistics in recent years make Germany a strong and major player in the European eCommerce industry alongside the UK and France. E-commerce growth in Germany has more potential than in France with the backup of a sufficient logistics system, which will be discussed later.
Although German consumers prefer brick-and-mortar stores to online marketplaces, online shopping gradually becomes their habit as a result of COVID-19. Nearly 80% of internet users purchase things online and up to 30% of them do it on a weekly basis.
Although vaccination programs are on the right track, and Germany and Europe are preparing for a new normal post-pandemic, shopping habits established during the lockdown will not be washed away. The digital stickiness of German consumers is prominent. Research by McKinsey shows that up to 91% of respondents continue to purchase online post-COVID-19.
With such promising numbers in e-commerce sales and online shopping customers, Germany should be on the priority list to consider for market expansion.
Noticeable e-commerce trends in Germany
Remarkable e-commerce trends help you understand the orientation of the market, so you can decide if it aligns with your business goals.
M-commerce is the main driving force for e-com sales
There is nothing new about the domination of smartphones and tablets in global online shopping. Likewise, mobile sales in Germany are growing more quickly than overall digital sales. Mobile apps and mobile payments were the top categories for German retailers' investment in 2019. They also brought the highest ROI of 12% and 13% respectively. As 86% of German citizens stated they are most likely to shop online from the couch, mobile commerce will continue to contribute a significant part to the overall e-commerce revenue.
Advertising & influencer marketing is getting noticed
Although many customers are against online advertising, it seems to be effective to the German. One-third of e-shoppers here have purchased directly through an advertising post at least once while 26.7% have at least made a click on it.
Key opinion leaders (KOL) and micro-influencers are also popular in Germany. Around 20% of online consumers here buy the advertised product directly from an influencer's product post that they visit. Another 20%, despite not making the instant purchase, later buy the featured item either online or offline.
Strong preference for green goods
Global consumers are more and more aware of the anthropogenic climate change caused by their consumption. That's why a minimal lifestyle that encourages “reduce, reuse, and recycle” is trending. German consumers are not excluded from that trend.
Sustainable packaging is a bonus point in German shoppers' opinion. (Source: Lumi)
Their willingness to pay more for green products is so significant that nearly half of them do so for products labeled as made from recycled materials or fully recyclable. Carbon offset also affects serial returners. 57% of Germans will return fewer items if they are aware of the environmental footprint of a return.
Online shopping behaviors of German consumers
Germany seems to have a lot of potentials, right? Let’s take a deeper look at the local consumers to know if it's easy for a foreign business to engrave in their mind.
Careful research before purchasing
Without a shadow of a doubt, German customers are very demanding. They tend to do thorough research before shopping online. The higher the price, the better the research should be done. Product descriptions, payment options, and delivery are things that catch most of their attention.
Online payment options
Due to the concern for cyber fraud, invoice is the most popular in Germany when it comes to online shopping with 81% of e-shoppers choosing it. They usually choose Cash on Delivery (COD) or afterward payment for online purchase.
It’ll take quite a lot of time and effort to urge the German to use digital payment methods such as e-wallets or online transfers since they feel less secure when entering their card details. Moreover, checkout abandonment gets higher when German consumers don’t find their preferred payment method (25% do so).
Living in a country of developed infrastructure for logistics, Germans have high expectations for delivery service. Their favorite delivery option is home delivery and 24/7 door-to-door shipping is the biggest driver for shopping online. The most popular carrier chosen by retailers is DHL. DPD, UPS, and Hermes are available in a similar number of online stores.
Online shopping devices
M-commerce is in full bloom in Germany as almost half of them reach for their smartphones daily. Everyday laptop users are fewer but the proportion is still considerable at 15%. The number of mobile users in Germany is on an increase, so domestic retailers are in the race to build user-friendly shopping apps and functions such as one-click checkout.
Lower-value, non-bulky items are typically purchased via mobile commerce, instead of expensive electronics or home goods. The most often bought items via mobiles are clothes, then books, and plane/train tickets.
Attitude toward cross-border shopping
German customers basically don't fancy the idea of cross-border shopping. However, they are slowly trying and opening up to products shipped from other destinations. The majority (69%) of drop shipped products in Germany come from the EU. Next come China and the US with 44% and 32% respectively. Thanks to better pricing and product availability, cross-border shopping is gradually winning the hearts of German consumers.
The locals usually buy affordable items like clothes, accessories, consumer electronics, or toys from abroad. They also prefer shopping in their native language when browsing on an international website.
Privacy & security issues
A very distinct characteristic of Germans is their high awareness of online privacy issues. As a result, setting up accounts in e-stores can make them reluctant to purchase. Moreover, although personalization is one of the biggest e-commerce trends so far, online consumers in Germany are not so keen on that idea due to concern about personal data.
Online merchants in Germany have to take privacy and security issues into careful consideration as the locals are cautious about personal data.
Benefits & challenges of selling online in Germany
Now that you have a birds-eye view of the German market, we'll go through some pros and cons if you expand your online empire to Germany.
Germany is set in the heart of Europe, a golden location for trading between countries in the union. It’s renowned for its well-established infrastructure, highly developed logistics system, and state-of-the-art warehouses. German carrier teams are ahead of these in most European countries in size and quality. This is also home to some of the biggest couriers companies like DPD, UPS, and Hermes that deliver products around the world.
Infrastructure for logistics with a wide range of large logistics companies in Germany is a big bonus for cross-border trade.
Compared to other European countries, it's relatively easy to start a business in Germany in terms of regulations and rules. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Germany has a super high Trading Across Borders score of 91.77 out of 100. Value-added tax in Germany is also lower than in other leading European markets. The general tax is 19%, subject to a reduction of 12% versus the 20% tax in the UK.
After expanding to Germany, you open up the opportunities to enter other German-speaking markets including Austria and Switzerland. Thanks to the central location, it also gets easier for you to penetrate more countries in the same region.
Besides, Shopify merchants inherit a huge advantage from the platform's knowledge base. In the Shopify App Store, there is a collection of Useful apps for Germany. The initial set-up instruction in their Help Center dedicates a section for Selling in Germany, which reaffirms that this is a focused market of Shopify.
Shopify merchants can take advantage of German dedicated sources in the platform for their market expansion plan (Source: Shopify App Store)
In addition, the agencies and experts market for Germany is more active, professional, and offers a wider range of services, from basic to advanced than that for France. The private Facebook groups have more than 7,000 members, raising around 10 conversations per day.
A mature e-com market
As one of the leaders for e-commerce in Europe, Germany is regarded as a mature market with intense competition. Germany is the leading country in Europe when it comes to the number of online stores, so prepare to compete with experienced competitors.
The good news for US/UK merchants is thanks to the maturity of the market, it's also more predictable and there are more resources and more successful cases for you to follow.
Preference for offline shopping
In 2019, the online presence of German retailers was very low. 65% of them were not active in the German online market. It's because local consumers prefer to see or test the item live before paying for it. Security concerns make cyberspace a place for researching rather than purchasing for German shoppers. 64% of customers use digital devices for shopping-related activities before they visit the physical store.
The hit of COVID-19 has created a surge in online shopping in Germany with 94% of consumers using it currently, so we can expect a massive change in the shopping behavior of the locals.
Price comparison websites are very popular in Germany. Idealo, one of the top 10 German e-commerce sites, is an example. It is a price comparison and e-commerce site, allowing users to not only compare prices to select the best value items but purchases can also be made via the platform. It has a huge number of 50 million visitors monthly.
It is the best situation if the German receives the best quality product at the lowest price. However, if the company can confirm the quality of its products, e.g. with certificates, the German consumer is ready to ignore the high price. A German customer will return to the store if they are well served, even if the product was more expensive.
Next steps for expanding to Germany
If all the above analysis is persuasive enough for you to make a move to Germany, you can follow these next steps to have better preparation for this demanding market.
Is your merchandise a perfect fit for Germany?
There are some product items German consumers tend to purchase online. If they are in your categories, congratulations! You’ve got +1 point for chances of success.
Electronics and media are the most popular items to shop online. The second place belongs to the fashion sector, and then we have toys, hobbies, and DIY.
(Source: Ecommerce Germany)
The DIY and home improvement market shows particular eCommerce promise, having experienced rapid growth. DIY and home-improvement eCommerce sales jumped from €2.3 billion in 2014 to more than €18.75 billion in 2018.
If your product offerings don't belong to the above-mentioned sectors, don't worry as it can create a niche market. With a great penetrating and marketing strategy, you can totally gain a competitive edge for that.
After understanding your products, it's time to dig into some big competitors in the German market.
The 10 most popular eCom stores in Germany from SimilarWeb data are Amazon Germany, eBay Germany, eBay Kleinanzeigen, Otto, Idealo, MediaMarkt, Lidl, Zalando, Thomann, Saturn.
Amazon Germany is the third-largest website in the country and the third-largest e-commerce site in the world. The monthly traffic can be up to 600 million visitors. Its revenue in 2020 is around €8.82 billion. Amazon is the marketplace for online stores, so you can also find out your direct competitors over there.
eBay Germany also has substantial traffic of 229.32 million monthly visitors. eBay Germany is the sixth-largest website in the country, offering goods in categories including cars, fashion, home, and electronics, which makes up the largest category for German consumers.
eBay Kleinanzeigen is Germany’s largest classified site that allows users to post free ads and browse a range of goods; new, used, private or commercial. It has around 148.78 million monthly visitors.
Unlike the big 3, Otto is a German-born brand that offers a range of items in categories like home, fashion, sports, electronics, and more, Otto attracts a vast German audience, particularly in homeware, apparel, and electronics categories where the brand particularly thrives.
Otto's monthly traffic is only a third of eBay Kleinanzeigen’s monthly visitors, but the 2020 revenue is a fourth of Amazon's 2020 revenue. (Source: Otto)
Idealo roughly has the same traffic size as Otto. It covers categories including sports and outdoor, baby and children, house and garden, food and drink, gaming, pharmaceuticals, and more, making it one of the most comprehensive comparison and e-commerce sites.
In terms of electronics products, MediaMarkt takes the lead in Germany. It's also successfully expanding to 12 additional countries and is gaining even greater success since the brand went online. It is currently the second-largest consumer electronics brand in the world, second only to its American competitor Best Buy. It has a 9-digit revenue of €734 million in 2020.
Depending on the types of products, there will be other direct and indirect competitors. Hence, you will need to spend a lot of time and effort in competitive research to know the strengths and weaknesses of the current online stores in Germany, then find out your own opportunities and challenges.
Localization is an essential step for market expansion especially in a country like Germany.
To assist you in this process, we suggest you first build up networks and set up partnerships with local agencies and influencers. Their native knowledge can give you more insights into the market and the consumers. Influencer marketing and advertising have proved to be effective in Germany, so you can use them to make your presence more widespread.
Having a local partner can also help you better understand Germany’s unique culture. For example, what product characteristics and details they care about, how much they prefer sustainably-made products and ethical companies, etc. With awareness of the German distinctness, you can come up with more brilliant ideas for sales and marketing.
If you plan to sell in Deutschland, first translate the website to German and remember to add the cookies pop-up for first-time visitors (Source: Ford Shop)
Although Germans have a high level of English proficiency, 43% of them prefer to make online purchases in their mother tongue. As a result, website translation to German can be a real boost for market expansion. A local agency can help you with this since they are more familiar with the language of German e-commerce.
Finally, the development of m-commerce in Germany requires US/UK merchants to build a mobile-friendly e-com site if they want to be successful. Check out these mobile optimization tips for site search and filter.
Market expansion is a strategic plan to boost sales and business growth. We hope that our analysis of the e-commerce market in Germany can assist you in choosing your next destination for expansion. Stay tuned and wait for more market analysis from Boost!