eCommerce & Technology

Overview

There are more than 51 million Internet users above the age of 14 in Germany. With transactions of over USD 62 billion in 2015 and ecommerce sales expected to rise to $83 billion in 2018 (a growth of 34% from 2017,) Germany has one of the largest digital buyer populations in the world. Online sales in Germany account for 8% of total retail sales, and more than half of German GDP was expected to be ecommerce related in 2017. 

The German regulatory environment is following the European Union “Electronic Commerce Directive (2000/31/EC)”, providing rules for online services in the EU.  It requires providers to abide by rules in the country where they are established (country of origin). Online providers must respect consumer protection rules such as indicating contact details on their website, clearly identifying advertising and protecting against spam. The Directive also grants exemptions to liability for intermediaries that transmit illegal content by third parties and for unknowingly hosting content. The European Commission released a work plan in 2012 in order to facilitate cross-border online services and reduce barriers and released a report on implementation of the action plan in 2013.[1]

Domestic eCommerce (B2C)

Total online sales of goods and services was approx. 66.8 million euros in 2016. In 2015, the German B2C ecommerce turnover grew by 13.3% to €59.7 billion. Germany had an online population of 62.9 million of people who were aged 15 and older.

Of the total online population, 51.6 million bought something online in 2015. The average spending per eShopper was €1,157 in 2016.[1]

Customer Experience

German consumers will value a number of different requirements in a different way to other markets. Particularly, the following are presented in order of importance, in general, by German consumers: 1. Clarity over consumer rights 2. Concern over ease of redress rights 3. Genuine high quality goods reassurance 4. Fear of fraud 5. Track and trace services 6. Returns and exchange 7. Ability to compare international retail offerings 8. Website speed and convenience 9. National and international delivery arrangements 10. Payments made in local currencies[2]

German consumer reasons for not making online purchases from foreign retailers: Delivery charges too high 56% Difficult to return faulty/unsuitable goods 50% Takes too long to arrive 49% Don’t know enough to feel comfortable 41% Have concerns about credit card fraud 33% Concerns about the quality of the goods 35% Sorting out customs is a hassle 53% Currency conversion rate unfavourable 10% Language problems 18% Difficult to navigate foreign websites 17%

Customer expectations around service availability and provision differ slightly from other territories. For example, telephone contact, chat service and email support/response is expected between 08:00 and 20:00 Monday to Friday. During that time, prompt responses are required; via email within 24 hours. 1st and 2nd level support is demanded immediately. On principal, all communication is expected to be in German; if the retail site and marketing has been translated (localised) then so should customer service.

The Hermes survey mentioned above also cites 79% of consumers saying that email is easy to do and importantly, 60% say it gives them a record of the correspondence. 57% say that telephone is a good way of communicating the problem. Whatever channel is used however, it is clear that a combination of communication methods need to be available to the consumer. This is another example for the need of localised support.[3]

Cross-Border eCommerce

The U.K., the U.S., and France are the top countries to benefit from cross-border eCommerce in Germany, primarily due to better product availability. Germany is also a popular shopping destination for European countries. 23% of digital shoppers in Italy make purchases from Germany, as do 17% and 15% from Spain and Sweden respectively.

Creating a Digital Single Market (DSM) is one of the ten priorities of the European Commission (EC).  The overall objective is to bring down barriers, regulatory or otherwise, to unlock online opportunities in Europe, from ecommerce to e-government.  By doing so, the EU hopes to have a way with its currently 28 member countries and create one borderless market with harmonized legislation and rules for the benefit of businesses and consumers alike throughout Europe. The aim is to allow better access for consumers and businesses to online goods and services across Europe, and to remove key differences between the online and offline worlds to break down barriers to cross-border online activity.

The European Commission set out a high-level vision in its May 6, 2015 DSM Strategy which will be followed by a number of specific and concrete legislative proposals and policy actions to be developed in 2015-2016.  They are broad reaching and include reforming ecommerce sector, VAT, copyright, consumer protection and data privacy laws.  DSM-related legislation will have a broad impact on U.S. companies doing business in Europe.[1]

B2B eCommerce

Businesses are increasingly becoming more online-oriented and trends suggest that the virtual B2B environment is rapidly expanding. An ibi research study conducted in 2015 found that 83% of interviewed companies frequently bought online. In addition, 20% of interviewees expected a strong increase in online purchasing within their company, and a further 53% expected at least some increase.[1]

Online Payment

Data from BITKOM shows that invoice is the most popular method of payment in Germany (63% of all transactions), followed by online payment services such as PayPal, debit and credit cards, immediate transfer/Giropay, payment in advance and cash on delivery. Other payment methods include ELV, Sofort Überweisung and RatePay.

Open invoice and direct debit are much more common forms of payment in comparison to many other countries. Open invoicing mean that a third party pays merchants for products purchased and collects a shopper’s payment after the products are delivered.

It is also worth remembering that Germany is known for its high return rate. Some reports claim that the percentage of all orders being sent back is as high as 50%.[1]

Domestic and Preferred Card Schemes

The preferred payment method of online shoppers in Germany is open invoice. A recent survey showed that 58% of the online customers in Germany order online and pay afterwards. Credit cards are also popular, as 34% of the customers use MasterCard, VISA or American Express. Other frequently used payment methods are PayPal, ELV, GiroPay, Sofort Überweisung , RatePay and Cash on Delivery.[4]

The most preferred online payment method (38%) is ELV (short for Elektronisches Lastschriftverfahren), an electronic direct debit payment method that’s supported by banks in Germany. In the Netherlands a similar method is the absolute number one. iDeal, also a payment method that’s supported by the majority of local banks, is the preferred payment method for 55% of online shoppers.[5]

38% ELV 25% Visa/MasterCard 16% PayPal 15% Sofort Bank 6% Giropay [6]

Alternative Payment Methods

  • Alternative Payment Methods:
  • PayPal – Being an eBay Inc. company, it was founded in 1998. It provides its clients the flexibility and choice to use their bank accounts, credit cards, etc. in a single account to pay a merchant, without the need to share confidential information with the merchant.
  • Giropay – An online payment method, which is supported by more than 1500 banks, and a client can use the service provided as long as an online checking account at a participating bank is available.
  • Sofortüberweisung.de – An easy and simple way to process online payments. Unlike other online transfer payment methods, there is no account registration. Credentials provided by the customer’s bank and a Transaction Authentication Number (TAN) are necessary to progress through the payment process.
  • Prepaid Voucher – It is an electronic stored value voucher, which could be redeemed through SMS and be transferred instantly in a user’s account for immediate use. [7]
  • Prepaid Card – A payment card with monetary value stored into it, without maintaining an account with a bank.
  • Bank Transfer – The transfer of funds from one account to another within the same or interbank, as long as supported.

Digital Invoicing/Returns

German customers are used to ordering with open invoice as the payment method. Returning items they don’t like or that don’t fit must be easy and for free. As a matter of fact, return rates can exceed 40% depending on the industry segment. However, on the upside, conversion rates when offering open invoice often outperform the European average, thus compensating or exceeding the return effect.[1]

Mobile Appetite

Some commentators are reporting an increase in the order of 23% whilst average spend per online consumer ranges from €600 to €1,000. The ever-increasing sophistication of the German shopper includes 75% having made a purchase online, 10% having made a purchase cross-border and 39% having used their mobile phone to purchase goods. Overall, ecommerce represents 15% of all non-food retail.

Smartphone (45%) and tablet (11%) ownership in Germany is neither high nor low enough when compared to other nations to have a significant impact on purchasing. Currently, 12% of shoppers there buy online using their smartphone, with 6% doing the same on tablet. We do see expected growth for mobile purchasing, but this growth is unlikely to be dramatic - 23% planning to purhase by mobile in the next year. [1]

Payments Regulation

In common with other markets, there are a number of issues that regulators are wrestling with, either due to domestic demand or in response to changing requirements coming out of the EU. For example, there are changes underway as to how interchange rates are set (the cost of processing a credit/debit card transaction), concern over additional charges for using certain types of payment methods, e.g debit card versus credit card, and in the German context, moves to ensure that “Sofortüberweisung” isn’t the only ‘free’ option available to customers.

To combat some of these concerns around payments and redress, a number of schemes are run that offer buyer protection. In the UK, a degree of protection is offered to consumers who use a credit card for certain transactions. In Germany, PayPal and Amazon now offer buyer protections. Trusted Shops offer a scheme that protects the buyer, promotes the merchant and includes customer reviews. Open invoice and direct debit payment types include a six-week window during which the buyer can claim a refund. [8]

Mobile payments

Only four percent of German mobile phone users, on average, turn to in-store mobile payments, which is long behind the rest of the field. Two reasons particularly stood out in a Deloitte study on the matter; 45 percent cited a lack of “discernible value” added as a result of mobile payments, and 38 percent considered security a major problem, problem enough to keep them out of the fray altogether. The next biggest reason was 18 percent who said the option wasn’t even available on their device. Eleven percent cited a lack of places to use the system, nine percent called it too complicated, seven percent didn’t understand the options available and another seven percent considered the phone screen too small for such things. [9]

Security

Overall fraud levels in the German market are lower than European averages, coming in at around 0.5%. Direct debit is the highest at 1.5% whilst open invoice follows a number of credit checks, allowing fraud levels to be kept down but increasing conversion rates. The risk management tools used in Germany would be familiar to managers in other territories although only those used to running customer credit accounts would be aware of the additional risk and credit checks required by open invoice. Another interesting point with direct debit is the longer period that chargebacks can be implemented by the customer; up to 8 months.

The Federal Data Protection Act (BDSG) applies to all organisations that are responsible for processing personal data. Personal data is any information relating to an identi ed or identi able natural person (data subject). An identifiable person is one who can be directly or indirectly identified, in particular by reference to a name, an identi cation number or to one or more factors specific to his physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity. [1]

The following principles must be adhered to: Legal Prohibition, unless permission is granted/Consent: The collection, processing and use of personal data are permitted only if authorised by a law or if the data subject has consented to it. Direct survey of data: Personal data shall be collected directly from those affected. Without the involvement by parties affected, collection is only permitted by exception, provided that no legitimate specific interests of the data subject prevent collection. Data economy: Personal data should not be kept for longer than is necessary and should be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose for which it is processed. Personal data should be anonymised if possible. Purpose limitation/Necessity: Personal data must be obtained only for specified and lawful purposes and should not be processed in any manner incompatible with that purposes. Furthermore, data processing must be necessary regarding its purpose. Transparency: Each data subject must be informed of the storage, the type of data, the purpose of the collection, processing or use and the identity of the responsible authority. There is stronger legal protection for “sensitive personal data”. Sensitive personal data is personal data consisting of information about an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or similar beliefs, trade union membership, physical or mental health or condition, sexual life or commission of or proceedings for any offence committed or alleged to have been committed by the individual and the outcome of such proceedings.

Mobile eCommerce

The strong ecommerce market in Germany can be attributed to the considerable proportion of the population who own smartphones (62%). In 2016, retail sales conducted via mobile devices in Germany were worth an estimated $19.14 billion, 33.2% of its total retail ecommerce sales. 

This growth is likely to continue as retailers improve their mobile websites and provide even more convenient ways of shopping on mobile devices.

Demographics suggest a stronger tendency for females to make purchases via mobile devices in most categories, particularly in the clothing and book sectors. 18 to 44 year-olds are also the biggest user group in these sectors but older groups are still showing a strong propensity to use mobile channels. [1]
 

Sources

  1. Export.gov "Germany - eCommerce"
  2. eCommerce Worldwide. Germany Country Guide. "eCommerce in Germany"
  3. eCommerce Worldwide. Germany Country Guide. "eCommerce in Germany"
  4. eCommerce News. "The Most Common Payment Methods in Europe"
  5. eCommerce News. "Online Payment Methods in Europe."
  6. Expert Market. "Online Payment Methods Around the World."
  7. The Paypers. "Payment Methods - Germany"
  8. eCommerce Worldwide. Germany Country Guide. "eCommerce in Germany"
  9. PaymentWeek "German Consumers Not Enthusiastic About Mobile Payments"
Most Popular Social Network:

Facebook (31M users)

Most Popular Payment Method:

Online Debit (38%)

eCommerce Volume:

$63.4 billion

Largest eCommerce Website:

Amazon