Shopping from your living room: e-commerce is changing consumer behaviour in Germany
E-commerce has become a major economic factor. More and more German consumers are enjoying the benefits of online shopping and are not deterred by the negative aspects. What does this change in consumer behaviour mean for retail trade in Germany?
Life has become very convenient for the consumer: thanks to e-commerce you can now choose and purchase almost anything – from books and films to clothing and airline tickets – from the comfort of your home computer. This approach to shopping has grown dramatically in Germany in recent years. In 2000, e-commerce accounted for sales worth EUR 2.5 billion; for 2014 the forecast is for turnover of EUR 33 billion. An economic success story, for sure. But what does it mean for consumer behaviour?
The BITKOM study ‘Trends in E-Commerce – Consumer Behaviour and Online Shopping’ showed that nine out of ten German internet users across all age groups shop online. Internet consumers buy mainly books, shoes and clothing, but other online purchases include tickets for events and entertainment media such as CDs and DVDs. The social aspect of e-commerce is also interesting: almost three quarters of internet users read the opinions of other customers and over one third leave feedback of their own.
Pros and cons of e-commerce
Online shopping also has its downsides. Delayed deliveries, damaged goods and even items supplied by mistake are not uncommon. Furthermore, consumers are not able to inspect goods in advance of purchase, a major concern in the case of expensive electrical items or cars. But it appears that online shoppers are not deterred by such disadvantages: although six out of ten consumers have had a negative experience, according to BITKOM, 64 per cent of them rate the solution offered by the vendor as positive or very positive. The convenience and above all the ease of price comparison seem to compensate for any disadvantages of e-commerce for online shoppers.
Books and travel: what impact has e-commerce had on these sectors?
Among the sectors particularly affected by the boom in e-commerce are the book trade and the travel industry. Small and medium-sized bookshops in particular are forced to defend themselves simultaneously against the large bookstore chains and the growing online purchase of books. Although e-commerce accounted for only EUR 2.2 billion out of book sales worth a total of EUR 9.6 billion in 2013, the trend is nevertheless on the up. So as not to lose touch with the changes in consumer behaviour, many smaller bookshops have also set up online stores of their own. In this way they seek to improve their own customer relations, not least by providing more continuous availability.
A frequent complaint from specialised bricks-and-mortar retailers is that consumers come to stores to be advised by specialist staff before making their purchase online, where prices are often cheaper. In the travel industry, however, the reverse appears to be true: customers first go online to get information about offers, before seeking a local travel agency for advice and booking – especially for all-in packages. Consumers seek assurance when booking their holiday that no mistakes are made and value the professional support an agency can provide. Although the number of travel agencies is on the decline in Germany, at around 10,000 the figure remains very high compared with other European countries.
Strategies for consumer loyalty
With e-commerce now a fact of everyday life, it is set to continue to bring changes to consumer behaviour in the years ahead. It is now up to the private sector, and local retailers in particular, to work to their strengths and win customer loyalty through specific offers and services. Partnerships with internet service providers, their own online shops and the development of new business models will help ensure that German consumers will continue to have the same choices as before: shopping convenience at the click of a mouse, as well as expert advice from a variety of specialist retailers.
Webinar on e-commerce in the Community
Has consumer behaviour changed in your country as a result of e-commerce? What do you see as the pros and cons of online shopping? What opportunities – or risks – do you think e-commerce brings for the economy? Is the shipping and packaging of goods not also detrimental to the environment?
Why not discuss these questions with other alumni in the Community group ‘Digital Society’, where also our webinar ‘eCommerce: From Digital Shopping to Digital Payment to Digital Currencies’ took place. To watch the video recording of the session please click on the button ‘Session 2’ in the Community group.
Mobile commerce or m-commerce is a particular type of e-commerce. M-commerce refers to purchases made using mobile appliances such as smartphones and tablet PCs. Here, too, high growth rates have been observed, although many consumers still have reservations – mainly concerning the security of data transmission. Mobile commerce is particularly popular among young people aged between 14 and 28, and specifically among young males.