German shoppers are embracing commerce as online shopping moves closer to becoming the standard retail entry point for the country’s consumers.
An analysis of data from EU statistics agency Eurostat shows that two-thirds of Germans shopped online last year, up from 53% in 2008 and some way above the current European average of 45%.
Bitkom, the trade body for IT, telecoms and new media which looked at the stats, said ecommerce’s ease-of-use and relaxed consumer laws are making for a growing German online culture.
While much of this growth may of course be down to the renowned Germanic efficiency, industry research suggests that flexible supply chains and attractive consumer laws are turning Deutschland into a growth country.
Speaking to the marketing information firm Warc, Bitkom president Dieter Kempf said: “Online shopping in Germany is following in the tradition of successful mail-order businesses, with outstanding international logistics, short delivery times and a high level of consumer protection.”
As retailers increasingly seek to go global, looking to tailor their sites to meet the needs of consumers all over the world, Germany is emerging as a major hotspot.
German online ecommerce generated €27.6 billion in 2012, representing 70% of the country’s overall B2C online and mail order turnover, according to the investment agency Germany Trade & Invest.
The German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association has forecast that ecommerce volumes will grow by around 21% this year, driven by the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablet use.
But for a company outside Germany looking to come in, expansion is not without its pitfalls. A key challenge is language.
As firms increasingly eye moves into new markets, a focus on multilingual is key. Why? Because consumers expect it. Research by the European Commission, for example, found that 82% of consumers were less likely to buy goods online if the site was not in their native language.
Arena Flowers, a UK online florist, moved into some key European markets – Germany, Holland, France and Belgium – in 2008.
Wanting to ensure that their operations were tailored to meet the needs of their customers, each of Arena’s European sites has its own URL and country-specific content, and native speakers are on hand to deal with customer service issues.
Speaking to BBC News, Arena Flowers’ co-founder and managing director, Will Wynne, said it was an easy decision to translate the sites.
“I think the language is a no-brainer. You’re not going to have any success if you don’t adapt to the local language,” he said.
“It’s almost a matter of respect. If you think there’s 60 million people in France and 80 million in Germany, and the idea that they would use our website if we didn’t translate is probably a bit ambitious.”
While there are a number of free-to-use translation platforms available, not to mention thousands of freelance writers, companies should think twice before using them.
Arena, for example, recruited translators in an ad-hoc fashion to translate its websites. But when they got someone in with a good grasp of the German language who reviewed the content, they found several mistakes.
“The trick is either to use a service which provides cost-effective help, or you need to get one good person that speaks that language really well,” Mr Wynne said.
“You need to have credibility. Having spelling mistakes on your front page, it makes you look shoddy.”
Germany is a big and lucrative market. But for businesses thinking of setting up shop in the country, getting website content right, fluent and accurate is a key starting point. If information is not available in the country’s native language, it is highly likely that shoppers will look elsewhere.