More Germans will purchase their Christmas gifts this year, contributing over 10 percent to the overall turnover of German retails. Over a longer term, online shopping is changing the landscape of German retail industry, experts say.
German retailers trade association (HDE) forecasted that German retail sales would reach 80.6 billion euros (109.9 billion U.S. dollars) in this November-December Christmas season, increasing by 1.2 percent compared with the previous year. Among the total turnover, 8.5 billion euros would come from e-commerze, which was expected to rose by 15 percent.
"In the stressful run up to Christmas, to buy Christmas gifts on the web appears more attractive to many Germans than overcrowded department stores," said Tobias Arns, an e-commerce expert in German IT association BITKOM. "By smartphone and tablet computer, most online transactions can even be done in a bus or train on the way to work."
Overall, 37 percent of all German citizens are planning to order Christmas presents online, according to BITKOM. Especially young people rely on the online shopping for Christmas. Of the 14 to 29 years old, around one in five would like to order gifts mainly on the web, while 13 percent of the 50 to 64 years old would make the same choice.
Germany has a second largest shopping-online population in the European Union (EU). The EU statistical office, Eurostat, said that among the population of 16 to 74 years old, 60 percent of German citizens would purchase on the web. A higher rate could only be seen in Denmark, which stood at 65 percent. In 2013, 14 percent of German enterprises' sales came from e-commerce.
"The success of e-commerce brings changes for the entire German retail landscape. Today, consumers can order online the things that they need, at any time - day or night. The selection is huge, the delivery time is very fast and the comparison of prices has never been easier," said Christin Schmidt, a spokeswoman of German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association (BVH).
She said Germans' enthusiasum for online shopping is supported by three phenomena: easier internet access, stronger willingness to shop and confidence in online business.
According to BITKOM, three-quarters of all adult German citizens use the Internet. Among the 18 to 29 years old, 98 percent surf the web. In the 50 to 64 years old population, the rate is 72 percent.
Meanwhile, the boom of smart mobile devices in Germany also simplifies access to the web. In 2013, around 26 million devices sold in Germany, almost 23 percent more than in 2012. By now, 40 percent of German citizens over 14 years old own a smartphone. Among 14 to 29 years old, two-thirds have one.
"The impact of mobile for the e-commerce business grows really fast......The success of mobile is of course also reflected in the Christmas season," said Schmidt.
Market research institute GfK released its newest survey on German consumers' confidence on Friday, showing that consumers were more willing to spend than at any point since December 2006. The institute has forecasted that Germans would spend an average of 288 euros for Christmas gifts this year, one percent higher than in 2012.
"A key reason is that the business environment remains very good. The unemployment rate is very low," said Stefan Hertel, CEO of HDE, adding that "The customers trust in their future. On the other hand the saving ratio is getting lower because of lower interests."
BITKOM President Dieter Kempf attributes the success of online shopping in Germany to the "outstanding international logistics", and "a high level of consumer protection" in the country.
"In Germany, a very consumer-friendly rule for the exchange of ordered goods applies. They can be returned within 14 days without giving reasons," said Kempf.
The trend of online shopping has brought benefits not only to online retailers, but also to the traditional entity stores. According to HDE, off-line retailers are increasing their investments in shops, service and products. Around 30 percent of them have established online shops in the last couples of years. In this Christmas, some retailers with online sales channels have earned more than 10 percent of their total turnover from online sales.
"The German merchants - both the stationary retailers and online retailers - are aware of the fact that it's no longer enough to offer the customer only one sales channel," Schmidt said.
"It is less about the question of whether the online trading is in competition with retail stores. The question is what the customer wants and how you can fulfill his desires perfectly."
She said stationary business will continue to play an important role, because many customers still want personal interviews. However, "the buying behavior is changing due to the rapid technological development. To stay as a dealer at eye level, you have to adapt to the pace of the customers."