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Advice for merchants launching in Germany

Many merchants contemplate launching in Germany as the massive size of the market and the stable economic climate seem to be fertile ground for good profitable business. Yet many businesses underestimate the challenges involved and decide to launch a German mirror version, more often than not rather poorly translated, of their existing shop under the impression that whatever works in the UK should be good enough in other countries as well.

Localisation is a key to success; some of the biggest brands in the industry have had to learn that the hard way and had to re-work their presence to make an impression on the German consumer. Others have completely withdrawn after an unsuccessful launch.

Traditional British “quaintness” definitely has huge appeal; picnic hampers and Earl Grey tea are all the rave in Germany. But just as the British holiday maker in Spain expects his “Sun” and “full English” in the morning, the German consumer expects a site that combines the best of both worlds.

Germany is one of the most heavily regulated e-commerce marketplaces in the European Union and there are many pitfalls for the unsuspecting merchant. And these usually are very expensive.

Among the most common (and most expensive) are:

No imprint/legal information:

- a Contact or About Us page does not suffice, a separate tab with:
- all your legal details
- full contact details (both phone and email mandatory, the jury is still out on having a fax number)
- your company registration details
- your VAT number
- the name and the address of the person responsible for the contents of the site
- and disclaimers for blog and social media content are required.

Data protection / cookie information

Similar to the UK the grace period for this information has ended, and the format and content in Germany is very similar to that used in the UK. It is however strongly recommended to have your wording checked by a legal professional to ensure full compliance.

Real time pricing / delivery cost

In a ruling of 2010 a German High Court found that prices on price-comparison pages and marketplaces should always reflect the true price of the product in the actual shop. In this particular case the price was lower on a CSE for close to three hours than the actual price in the web-shop, which in the eyes of the court gave the merchant in question a competitive advantage. Many German CSE’s have responded offering an API real-time update solution, but the majority of CSE’s still update at intervals of 4-6 hours, some only once a day. This is fine if you sell furniture or clothing, but consumer electronics retailers that change prices more than once a day need to be cautious who they advertise with.

The same goes for delivery cost – it is absolutely mandatory to display the real price of the product, and the consumer must be made aware pre-commitment of all the cost involved.

Base price / strike through prices

Selling quantifiable goods like wine, perfume, sun blockers? Then you must display the price for the nearest full metric unit (litre, kilo) in the immediate vicinity of the price. Again, not all CSE’s can do this, predominantly due to field restrictions in their layout, and some use the field normally reserved for marketing message to display the base price.

If you offer reductions and your distribution partner can display the new price in a more eye-catching way it is mandatory that the strike through price is qualified by displaying the old price, again in immediate vicinity of the new price.

The German button solution

To prevent hidden cost offers or the signing up to services with cost involved the German lawmakers require that the order confirmation page and the order confirmation button make it absolutely clear that the consumer now will order goods that cost money. Even industry experts in Germany think that the mark has been overshot here considerably it is better to be compliant than to pay a huge fine.

Many of the issues can be addressed by an optimised feed that is enriched with the missing data and that is pushed out to fully compliant partners at regular intervals. Some issues are quick editorial fixes. And as common sense predicts it is better to invest in a legal review of your content pre-launch, and not after the first fines have hit you.

Speak to us today about launching in Germany, which sites to partner with and for a free feed review to ensure that you get off to a flying start.

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