The German eCommerce market is full of tantalizing potential. We explore how to succeed by connecting with German online shoppers – and which pitfalls to avoid.

You can’t assume German speakers will understand English. And German online shoppers’ attitudes to delivery methods, payment options, security and even social media are all vastly different from the UK or US. (Read more about this in our post about German eCommerce.)

Without understanding and embracing these cultural differences, any attempt to break into the German eCommerce market simply won’t work. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work with the online German market.

WHAT DO GERMAN ONLINE SHOPPERS WANT?

It’s not enough simply to tell German shoppers that they’ll want your product – you have to show them why.

Low cost

The top-selling products that Germans purchase from abroad are clothing, books, CDs, DVDs and video games. These are not high-value items. Indeed, Germans were driven to begin shopping online in part because of the low costs associated with it. They will regularly compare prices across several websites to ensure they are getting the best deal, so if your product and pricing information (including delivery rates) are not easily accessible and digestible, they’ll go elsewhere.

Flexibility

44% of German consumers want greater flexibility when choosing a delivery date, while 33% want more options for collecting a package at a convenient retail location (source: Comscore). So flexibility is important, especially when it comes to delivery. In fact, German businesses have gained a competitive edge by improving delivery and return options; just take Zalando’s 100-day free returns policy as an example.

The result is that consumers are spoiled for choice and expect overseas companies to provide the same level of service as their domestic rivals. If you can’t keep up, they’ll find someone who can.

Security

German online shoppers have deep-seated reservations about putting their personal details on the web. Data privacy is a huge issue in Germany. Germans are generally reluctant to create online accounts to buy things, or to pay via credit/debit card. And contactless payments and mobile payments via smartphones are facing resistance due to trust concerns. Therefore, we strongly recommend offering direct debits and invoices on delivery payment options, especially if you’re operating overseas.

Humility

In Germany, less is more. Brash slogans claiming to be the biggest, the brightest and the best will have little impact. Instead, Germans prefer understatement and modesty. You may think your product is the best ever, but you can tone it down. Prove it through the product information you provide and the product’s functionality, not through loud slogans without substance. The same goes for brand logos – German brands, such as Adidas and BMW, favor minimalist designs.

Localization

18% of German shoppers wouldn’t buy from a foreign website, so if you want to be heard, you’ll need to speak in German. And you’ll want to speak the right way. For a start, content should be natural and adapted for the market. The same goes for keywords. It’s better to generate these from scratch, especially as translations could eat up your character count – you don’t want to end up with one of these words taking up all your space.

The German language also uses two forms to address people, one formal and one informal. Although businesses in fields like IT are abandoning the formal form, it still holds a great deal of sway. It’s important to think through your company’s approach to this carefully. In some industries, such as the automotive industry, status is important, so it would be inappropriate to begin addressing customers casually. You don’t want to put them off by appearing less than serious.

How do I connect with them?

Customer interaction also differs vastly between Germany and Anglophone countries. Although social media is growing in popularity, usage figures are still well below those of other developed countries, partially due to a fear of oversharing information online. But it is still possible to foster strong customer relationships online. Here’s how:

Website

Research is an important part of the customer journey, so your website should provide easy access to the information shoppers are looking for. This includes product information and pricing/delivery details, which should be clearly visible from an early stage. But to really appease your customers’ concerns, you could have your website audited by TÜV, a technical inspection association, to receive an official quality certification, as well as indicate your compliance with German data privacy regulations on your website.

Content Marketing

According to a YouGov survey of German consumers, 80% of people who responded positively to content marketing went on to make a purchase, with 63% going on to make a long-term switch to the brand (source: eMarketer). Clearly, then, content marketing can make a huge difference.

To capitalize on this, provide meaningful, data-driven content that avoids showing off, but don’t be afraid to add some humor, which will go down well with your customers. It would also be good to mention your delivery/returns policy directly in these ads. Germans are less fussy than shoppers in the UK about ad positioning, so feel free to play around with its location on the page to find out what works for you.

Social media

Despite lower usage figures than other countries, social media in Germany shouldn’t be ignored. Over 80% of German millennials now use Facebook, so it should be a pivotal part of any online campaign. Other platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Xing are popular with different demographics, so use them as well – see our blog on German social media for more information on which platforms to use, and when/how to use them.

FINAL THOUGHT

Invoice on delivery and an easy returns policy could be seen as an opportunity, not a potential obstacle. Being able to order a product without handing over payment makes it easy to order. Then, once the product has arrived, the owner doesn’t want to give it back.

As a result, it could be argued that an invoice-on-delivery policy will increase order volume, while still having a high return rate. That’s exactly what they’re banking on at Amazon Fashion, with an “only pay for what you don’t return” policy. That, and trying to remove the apparent need for brick-and-mortar stores!