When operating in the German market, businesses often wonder why their website is not performing well or their bounce rate is very high. This can be due to small mistakes on the website that might not be noticed by an external viewer yet will be picked up on immediately by German customers.
Germans can be very suspicious when it comes to buying from or interacting with websites that they haven’t previously encountered. In the research stage before purchasing a product, it is standard practice to check the imprint to determine whether the company behind the website is trustworthy. An imprint is a legally mandated statement of the ownership and authorship of a website. In Germany, it is necessary by law to include information about the company’s location in the imprint. This includes information about the website operator such as their contact details, trade registry number and VAT number. Missing information will automatically discourage a lot of German customers and might lead to prosecution and a disciplinary warning letter. It is also an advantage to highlight whether there will be German speaking customer service available in case of returns or questions.
It’s crucial that the cancellation terms are either very visible on the website or are sent to the customer via email after a purchase. Many German websites include the cancellation terms in the FAQ section to provide transparency for their customers.
Other additional considerations include ensuring the address field in the checkout processed is localised for a German audience, as postcodes aren’t used like they are in the UK. The use of the Euro symbol (€) is another mistake found on many websites. The currency symbol is traditionally placed in front of the amount in countries such as the UK, whereas it is always placed after the amount in Germany. To have the € in the wrong place will cause suspicion for German customers and could deter them from converting on the website.
As well as showing the legal terms on the website, it is also beneficial to display any accreditations that the website might have acquired so far. These need to be specific to the German market because certifications that are recognised in the US or UK will not have the same trusted effect on the German market. There are associations in Germany that deal with online customer protection and trust signals of online shopping such as the Bundesverband des Deutschen Versandhandels. The over-30s increasingly rely on these types of trust signals to decide whether a website is safe to buy from or interact with.
Below are the recommended accreditations for German commercial websites.
Germany’s preferred online payment method has shifted to PayPal recently. However, invoicing is still the second most popular payment method as many Germans don’t like providing their bank or card details to a website. The older generation in particular prefers to use a bank transfer to purchase goods and this is why it is still offered by almost every online retailer. The graph below summarises the most popular online payment methods for Germans.
The official German consumer organisation, the Verbraucherzentrale, recommends that online customers should pay by invoice or direct debit as this is the most secure method. It is also mandatory that websites show the possible payment methods as soon as the customer starts the checkout process – or preferably even sooner.
It is a legal requirement for every website in German to have a data protection statement, a violation of which can lead to prosecution. In this statement, it needs to be made transparent what happens to the customer’s data, for example, how much of it is saved and how is it used. It’s particularly important for ecommerce websites to highlight what happens to the data provided during the checkout process and whether this data is shared with third parties. A study found that almost 50% of Germans said that they are afraid to buy online because they fear that their data may be used with criminal intent. It is imperative that websites operating in the German market assure their customers that their data is safe with them and is not shared with third parties or sold to other companies. This can be made clear during the checkout process or in the terms and conditions, which are read always or mostly by more than 40% of German customers.
Data protection information is often located in the terms and conditions, and this needs to be easily accessible to visitors to the website. The more difficult it is to find the terms and conditions (or AGB in German) the more likely the customer will judge the website as untrustworthy and leave it.
Delivery, store collection and returns
Although not yet the norm, in-store collection is offered by several online shops in Germany, especially in the technology industry. The English term “click and collect” informs the customer that there is an option for in-store collection, however, there is no linguistic equivalent to express this in German as yet. Instead, many retailers design their own graphical representation to show the customer what is meant by “click and collect” as shown in the below graphic.
However, it should be noted that the online return law, which allows any unwanted item to be returned within a 14-day timeframe, is not valid for items picked up in store. Despite that, certain stores with an accreditation from Trusted Shops still offer that return policy, even for orders picked up in store.
If you need any more information about localising and optimising your website for a German audience, please contact us on: +44 113 468 9777