Data from AfterPay Insights’ research into the e-commerce behavior of 5,500 German consumers shows that purchases are up +36% in May compared to before the corona outbreak. Although German e-commerce is still increasing, growth has reached a ‘plateau’ in the second half of May.

We see a shift in consumers motivations to shop online. In May, German online shoppers have become more and more driven by the convenience of online shopping, whereas the main reason to shop online more in April was to avoid meeting people and because stores and restaurants were closed. An interpretation of this is that online shopping has become a natural purchase channel, this is especially evident among medium- and heavy shoppers.

The number one reason for buying less is now the limited personal financial situation, whereas it used to be worries about the broader economic implications of the corona outbreak for society. German consumers are somehow shifting from a ‘we’ mode to a ‘me’ mode, with their personal wallets in mind.

As in April, the increase in online purchases is still largely driven by existing online shoppers buying more in May. But our research reveals that only more frequent online shoppers are prone to shifting purchases from brick and mortar stores to online in certain categories – this is especially noticeable in the food categories.

We also see that online shoppers expand their repertoire by venturing into new categories online. This is especially evident in Fashion where 18% of the online shoppers made at least one purchase in the second half of March, and 25% have done so in the second half of May. This partly explains the growth of Fashion with +28% in number of purchases since the corona outbreak.

Heavy shoppers make up 18% of all German online shoppers but they account for 52% of all online purchases. In order to attract and retain heavy shoppers’, merchants need to focus on managing a fast delivery. In addition, merchants must also find ways to help these shoppers overcome their worry about the risk of getting contaminated by packages ordered.

 

E-commerce growth in Germany reaches a ‘plateau’ in May

Compared to before the corona outbreak, e-commerce purchases in Germany have grown continuously. However, after the second half of April and in May, the number of online purchases has reached a ‘plateau, steadily growing at a 37% increase in the first half of May, followed by a 36% increase in the second half of May.

Dividing the German e-commerce shoppers into groups by online purchase frequency reveals some interesting insights. First of all, we can see that the share of heavy shoppers (having made 5 or more purchases during the last two weeks) has increased continuously – from 10% of the online shopper base prior to the corona outbreak to 18% by the second half of May. From a merchant perspective, heavy shoppers are a relatively small but critical segment. This segment only represents 18% of German online shoppers by the last weeks of May, but they stand for 52% of all online purchases. Not only has the heavy shopper segment increased in size, but their share of total purchases has also increased from 47% at the end of March to 52% by the end of May.

And at the other end of the spectrum, the share of infrequent online shoppers (having not made any purchases during the last two weeks) has decreased over time, i.e. they have also started making more online purchases.

 

The merchant critical heavy shopper segment is over-represented among people aged 18-44, holding a full-time job with a mid to high income. The segment comprises more women than men, one fifth of the segment are women aged 18-34 and it is over-represented among families with kids living at home. As heavy shoppers have increased from 10% of online shoppers preceding the corona outbreak to 18% at the second half of May, there has also been a shift in the demographic composition of this segment. Most notably, in Germany the inflow to this segment are males and middle-aged consumers without kids living at home.

The medium shopper segment (as defined by having made 2-4 online purchases in the last 2 weeks) has reduced marginally in number of consumers. Overall, this segment has a demographic profile that resembles the average German online shopper. However, they are slightly younger – but not as young as the heavy shoppers.

The light shopper segment and the no purchases segment are over-represented among older consumers (aged 55+) and among men and consumers in the post-family life stage. Their disposable income is also lower compared to the other shopper types. The average age of consumers in the segment has shifted over time to become even higher.

 

Why are German consumers changing their e-commerce behavior?

From the outset of the corona outbreak up until mid-April, the main drivers for German consumers to increase e-commerce purchases were to avoid meeting other people in physical stores, i.e. to prevent themselves from getting infected as well as the fact that restauants were closed. As the lock-down continued, these two drivers decreased significantly in importance.

Now (end of May), the main reason for consumers to shop more online is because it is convenient. And convenience is a significantly more important driver the more you buy online. In addition, an increasing number of consumers are motivating increased online shopping by the fact that products are cheaper online.

 

 

Also notable is that the share of consumers who motivate increased online shopping by ‘cannot leave home due to taking care of family’ has decreased continuously since the corona outbreak.

Deep diving into the purchase frequency segments, heavy shoppers’ increase in purchases is, relatively, more driven by convenience and the fact that stores can have a limited product availability. These motivations are of more importance for heavy shoppers than the fact that prices are cheaper online. And light shoppers are relatively more driven by lower prices online, compared to prices in physical stores.

At the start of the corona outbreak, German consumers claimed the main reason for making less e-commerce purchases was more or less a practicality, ‘we need to consume less in general’. But tracking the German online population over time tells a partly different story.

The general financial uncertainty is still a main driver for decreasing online purchases, including the confidence in consumers’ personal finances, even though these drivers have decreased in importance.

However, what is most notable among German online shoppers during May is that consumers’ personal limited financial situation has emerged as the number one reason for German e-commerce shoppers to decrease their online purchases. Consumers are also still worried about getting contaminated by packages, as this motivation to decrease online purchases has doubled in importance since end of April.

 

As the inherent trait of a heavy shopper is to shop more online, consumers in this segment also need to encounter heavier barriers in order to make a conscious decision not to shop online.

The most important barriers of these heavy shoppers to make more online purchases resemble that of the average German online shopper. I.e. the top reasons are due to consuming less in general and financial concerns. But what is interesting is that an almost as important driver for heavy shoppers is the worry of getting contaminated by corona from the packages. This barrier is considerably more prevalent among heavy shoppers than it is among medium- and light shoppers.

 

How have German consumers’ worries developed since the corona outbreak and what is the impact on e-commerce?

The general level of worry among Germans online shoppers has decreased since the start of the corona outbreak. The worry about personal health has decreased the most, from 51% at the second half of March to 45% by the second half of May. In that same period, worries about personal finances decrease from 39% to 36%.

 

Without a doubt, the level of worry about the corona outbreak has a powerful impact on consumers’ e-commerce behavior.

A general conclusion is that the more worried a consumer is about corona from a health- as well as financial perspective, the more online purchases that consumer does. Heavy shoppers are the most worried, followed by medium shoppers and light shoppers.

How have German consumers’ purchases in product categories developed since the corona outbreak?

Fashion, Kitchen appliances and Home décor/furniture were, directly following the corona outbreak, negatively affected showing a decrease in online purchases. But all of these categories have since bounced back and are, compared to the number of purchases before the corona outbreak, now showing considerable growth. The other categories in the chart below have also grown continuously since the corona outbreak, most evident regarding Gardening tools, which is to be expected from a seasonality perspective.

 

We have another set of categories in Germany, that have been affected, but not to the same extent. Here, we see small increases followed by decreases or vice versa since the outbreak. The exception being Travel and transportation’, which is very much in the negative numbers.

 

 

And there are some categories which increased following the corona outbreak but where the curve could be interpreted as pointing towards a decline moving forward. The outlier here is Tickets which never increased and has continued to decline in number of purchases

 

 

Deep-diving into shopping frequency, analytics show that consumers’ share of online purchases made within the categories Food and groceries as well as Take away food is correlated to online purchase frequency. The conclusion here is that you have to be a quite frequent online shopper (heavy shopper) in order for you to shift your food purchases from offline channels to online.

Will German consumers shop more or less in June?

In April, we predicted that the growth in terms of number of online purchases was going to be dampened in May, due to the fact that the share of consumers claiming they would buy at the same level as before had increased. And this is also what happened. As consumers’ projections remain the same during May, we expect the growth level to stay on this plateau during June.

As might be expected, heavy shoppers are more positive towards increasing their number of online purchases going into June compared to the other shopper segments. But the share of heavy shoppers that claim they will buy as much as they did before has also increased over time, another indicator that recent growth rates will be dampened.

 

Which products will German consumers buy more or less in June?

For most categories, the rate of recent growth (or decline) is in line with the expected growth that consumers indicate for June. But there are some exceptions. Gardening tools, Hardware/Building materials, Home décor, and Kitchen appliances have all shown dramatic increases in number of purchases recently, but the future outlook is pointing towards a dampened rate of growth.

As described above, the main reason for the 36% total increase in e-commerce purchases in Germany in May is that current e-commerce consumers have started to buy more – as opposed to the increase being driven by offline consumers switching to online purchasing.

But what we also see is that online purchasers are expanding their repertoire by venturing into new categories online. This is especially evident in ‘Fashion’ where 18% of the online shoppers made at least one purchase in the second half of March, but where this number in the second half of May is 25%.

German consumers indicate higher demands on merchants

When analyzing the full online consumer base in Germany, the most important driver for choosing an online merchant is that a website has the lowest price. That the webshop is secure, and that consumers have used the webshop before together with the brand being well-known are also central demands that German online shoppers put on merchants.

And what really distinguishes German online shoppers is their need for flexible payment options. This need is more than twice as large in Germany compared to Norway and the Netherlands.

 

 

We see a very clear link between the number of online purchases made and the amount of demands put on merchants. The ranking of the demands is similar across the different segments based on online purchase frequency, with some interesting differences.

  • Light shoppers are heavily driven by the webshop being well-known, secure and offering the lowest price. For light shoppers in Germany, 40% indicate lowest price as important. To compare: the corresponding figure in The Netherlands is 29%.
  • Medium shoppers prefer a webshop that they have used before, that they also know is secure, offering the lowest price and reliable delivery.
  • Heavy shoppers are in many cases more mature online shoppers, so they place lower demands on hygiene needs such as used it before, lowest price, secure and well-known. But they have higher demands on fastest delivery time, reliable delivery and flexible return options.

Analyzing the share of consumers who state if needs have become less or more important, the overall conclusion is that all demands on merchants have become more important. Compared to before the corona outbreak, the needs that have increased the most in importance are ‘lowest price’ and ‘secure website’.

 

Looking into demands placed on merchants in combination with shopping frequency, heavy online shoppers in Germany have significantly higher demands related to both security as well as reliable and fast delivery.

 

How are German consumers’ changing demands affecting merchant performance?

German consumers’ satisfaction with how merchants’ deliver is highest regarding shipping and delivery, as well as for the payment process. The lowest levels of satisfaction are measured for customer service and return process.

But the aspect that has decreased the most since the corona outbreak is consumers’ satisfaction with fast delivery time.

Interestingly, the overall level of satisfaction with merchants’ performance does not differ significantly between light shoppers, medium shoppers and heavy shoppers. But the satisfaction differs per area.

Light shoppers are relatively more satisfied with products in stock, low price and fast delivery. But they are on the other hand less satisfied with customer service, payment process, return process and security.

Merchant considerations:

  • Due to stores being closed, store personnel is not available to provide the traditional retail experience. Can you offer the same type of friendly guidance over chat and phone? How available is your customer support department? And how do you communicate that on your product pages? What about on your social media channels?
  • Review your return communication. Can you guide consumers better? What is your current return processing time? When do consumers receive their refund? Consider enabling consumers to return the goods in your store or warehouse. Can you arrange that consumers are able to get return packages collected at their home?
  • Focus on improving perceived security – a multidimensional challenge: technical, financial, payments and social reputation. Screen your existing support content – does it give trust? Stay tuned for an in-depth blog post on this subject.

Medium shoppers’ level of satisfaction on all areas are more or less in line with the average across all online shoppers.

Merchant considerations:

  • Focus on improving perceived security – a multidimensional challenge: technical, financial, payments and social reputation. Screen your existing support content – does it give trust? Stay tuned for an in-depth blog post on this subject.
  • Improve the availability, quality and above all perceived friendliness of your customer service department and staff.

Heavy shoppers are more satisfied with merchants’ return process and payment process. But they are considerably less satisfied with low price. But what sets heavy shoppers apart is their dissatisfaction with fast delivery time, products in stock and shipping & delivery. 

Merchant considerations:

  • Have your consumer segments changed? Who are now your most frequent shoppers and how do you communicate with them?
  • Offer multiple types of delivery options and providers – especially express services and give your consumers the ability to choose the delivery option that they experience works the best in their area.
    • If you normally review your pricing weekly this might be the time to adopt a daily routine. Bundle products to reach higher AOVs, even though margins need to be lowered. Heavy shoppers are likely attracted to low prices, and best value can play in to the needs of this segment well.
  • Having products in stock that can dispatch on the same day is a message that resonates with consumers these days. Putting this information next to your price can counter balance competing lower offers.
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