E-commerce in Germany
- Sandra Visser-Meijer
- 24 May 2023
- Edited 14 Nov 2022
- 6 min
- Managing and growing
Your Dutch online shop is ticking along nicely and you are ready for the next step. Why not consider a German online shop? Germans are among the most eager online buyers in Europe. With over 83 million inhabitants, the German market is almost 5 times larger than the Dutch market and total e-commerce sales are more than 3 times higher. However, large markets also attract lots of vendors, so you will have to make your online shop stand out with a carefully curated design and distinctive product range.
For Dutch businesses, the German market offers opportunities. The local e-commerce market leans heavily on German marketplaces (in Dutch) such as Amazon and OTTO, also called platforms. Platforms (in Dutch) are an easy, low-effort way to enter the German market, but you could also choose to set up a German online shop. In this article you will read background information about e-commerce in Germany and marketing tips, so you will be fully prepared when your online shop launches on the German market.
Applying for a local domain name
If you are serious about doing business in Germany, apply for a domain name with country code .de. German consumers are much more likely to surf to and buy from a shop with a German domain name than a Dutch domain name, as they will be more likely to trust a website that feels familiar.
Registration in Germany
The Deutsches Network Information Center (DENIC) is responsible for registering internet domain names in Germany. For a .de domain name, you need a business address in Germany. If you do not have a business address in Germany, designate an administrative contact in Germany. This person's name and address must be known to DENIC.
E-commerce trust marks
German people value reliability and trust marks. With a trust mark, you can show your customers that your shop has been audited by an independent organisation, increasing your odds that German customers will make a purchase. You are not required to have a trust mark, or Gütesiegel (in German). The most common trust marks in Germany are:
- Trusted Shops: European trust mark for online shops that verifies whether e-retailers respect customers' rights.
- TÜV-SÜD Geprüft S@fer shopping (in German): German trust mark generally viewed by German people as signifying quality.
- EHI Geprüfter Online Shop (in German): quality mark from EHI, German’s most famous trade organisation.
- Datenschutz-Gütesiegel ips (in German): primarily assesses data security and data protection.
‘Impressum’ is the German word for colophon. Online privacy is very important to German people and German laws on privacy, colophons, copywriting, data protection, and data storage are much stricter than in the Netherlands.
Specialised agencies actively look for violations and initiate legal proceedings, which can end up with you being handed a large fine. By law (in German), written media must have an ‘Impressum’, and that includes German websites and online shops. The ‘Impressum’ states who owns the publication and therefore holds the copyright, as well as specifying the name and address of the provider, the name of their legal representative, phone number and address, register numbers, and VAT identification number. This information must be clear, readily accessible, and always available.
Owners of German online shops process personal data and need a ‘Datenschutzerklärung’ (in German). This is a statement that explains how and why you process customer data. In this statement, you should also explain how customers can unsubscribe from newsletters, for instance. Your ‘Datenschutzerklärung’ should be easy to find. So putting it at the top or bottom of your homepage can be a good idea.
For more information about German laws and regulations, take a look at this brochure: ‘Rechtssichere Internetseiten & Online Shops‘ (in German).
Update your payment methods to the market’s needs and wishes. Germans like pay-later services such as Klarna, and paying via PayPal, a credit card, or SOFORT banking. The latter is similar to an online money transfer. For German people, offering invoice payments is a sign of mutual trust, but it is up to you to decide if you want to offer this payment method. Not offering pay-later services may harm your sales figures in Germany. PayPal is particularly popular because it offers strong encryption and fraud prevention tools, in addition to purchase protection.
In Germany, online shops are required to offer at least one free payment method.
VAT on distance sales in Germany
For sales and deliveries that involve shipping goods from the Netherlands to German consumers, the 'destination country principle‘ applies. This rule also applies to entrepreneurs who are not subject to VAT and to legal entities that are not entrepreneurs. Under this rule, you have to charge German VAT to German consumers. In Germany, VAT or sales tax is known as ‘Umsatzteuer’ (USt) or ‘Mehrwertsteuer’ (MwSt). For more information about VAT rates in Germany, visit the website of the Bundeszentralamt für Steuern.
There are two ways to file overseas VAT returns. The first way is to apply for a German VAT number and file local VAT returns in Germany. The second way is to sign your company up for the Union scheme under the One-Stop-Shop system of the Dutch Tax Administration, who will then pass on the VAT to Germany.
If your total sales to German consumers and your other intra-EU consumer sales remain below the €10,000 threshold, you are allowed to continue to charge Dutch VAT as a Dutch online shop.
German laws and regulations
When you sell products to German customers, German laws and regulations apply. They may differ from the laws and regulations you are used to in the Netherlands. 3 examples:
- Germany has strict packaging requirements (in Dutch). All online shops that sell packaged products to German consumers have to meet these requirements and are bound by German law to take back packaging. This obligation lies with the first party in the chain to place packaged products on the German market. As of 1 July 2022, Germany tightened its ‘Verpackungsgesetz’ (VerpackG) on packaging, which means that the ‘Erstinverkehrbringer’ – the first party in the chain to place packaged products on the market – is now required to register all types of packaging materials.
- Germany also has specific legislation on batteries. This is the so-called ‘Batteriegesetz’ (BattG) (in German). If you sell products containing batteries to German consumers, you are also responsible for recycling these batteries and have to be listed in the ‘Batterie-register’ (Stiftung GRS Batterien).
- For the sale of electrical and electronic equipment, Germany has the ‘Elektro- und Elektronikgerätegesetz’ (Elektrogesetz), which states that if you place this equipment on the German market, you are also responsible for the collection and environmentally friendly disposal of discarded appliances. This law applies even if you do not have a branch in Germany. Before you place products on the market in Germany, you have to register with the Stiftung elektro-altgeräte register (ear).
For any questions about German laws and regulations, reach out to the German product contact point.
According to research by the Centre of Market Insights (CMIHvA) (in Dutch), one of the biggest pitfalls for foreign businesses looking to enter the German e-commerce market is to use the same strategy for your Dutch and German online shop, for instance. So check out the following tips and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.
1. Investigate whether the German market demands special products
Check whether your product meets German product requirements (in Dutch), or whether you need to modify it. Often, minor product changes – such as a more appealing colour – are all you need to meet customers’ needs and wishes.
You sell bicycle clothing and accessories. In recent months, the bicycle market (in German) in Germany has been booming, as more Germans are commuting by bike. Safety comes first and many people wear bike helmets and high-visibility vests. You have them in your range anyway, and you offer particularly striking, highly visible colours especially for the German market.
2. Make your website mobile-friendly
Germans spend a lot of time on their smartphones. Keep your website mobile-friendly and give visitors all the information they need at a glance. When designing your mobile website, remember that visitors will view it on a relatively small screen.
3. Make your website look and feel German
German website visitors prefer sites that feel familiar, so use German copy and include a German phone number, address, and bank account number. Have your website translated by a professional agency and enlist local partners for help and support with social media and customer service.
4. Update your keywords and search terms
Germans use different search terms than Dutch people. Dutch advertising keywords like ‘the best and the cheapest’ are less effective in Germany. While Dutch people primarily look at prices when comparing products, German customers will focus on quality and reviews, so update your keywords accordingly.
5. Narrow down your online market
Apart from Germany, German is also spoken in Austria, large parts of Switzerland, South Tyrol, and southern Denmark. In other words, customers from lots of different areas will find your business, potentially stretching beyond your logistical, fiscal, and legal capabilities. Search engines like Google let you narrow down your target region online and then expand it in stages. Your online information does need to be available to all customers because you are not allowed to use geoblocking (in Dutch) to block IP addresses of foreign customers.
In 2021, German consumers spent €99.1 billion on products (in German) ordered from e-commerce websites, with sales increasing by 19% compared to 2020. On digital services, German consumers spent €8 billion, while the country’s total e-commerce sales exceeded €107 billion in 2021.
German marketplaces were responsible for a large share of total e-commerce sales (€107 billion) in Germany, with parties like Amazon, OTTO, eBay, Zalando, and Etsy earning €50.5 billion. Amazon is 3 times larger than OTTO, and remains by far the largest platform.