Germany vs UK: cultural differences in ecommerce

You may assume that in the globalized world selling products on international ecommerce markets is quite straightforward. Sellers and buyers across the globe should be of similar profiles, right?

Granted: the world we know today may be striving towards economic, cultural and legal uniformity. However, people from different countries have different cultural setups that motivate their behaviour.

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There’s no single manual that would demonstrate how to function in globalized reality, be it in a personal or business context.

Ecommerce is no exception. Today sellers feel comfortable offering their products on foreign markets. Buyers are also willing to purchase items from abroad. Yet both sellers and buyers and their mindsets differ across countries.

  • Why will you be better off not taking cultural differences for granted when it comes to international ecommerce?
  • How do international sellers differ on the basis of the comparison between German and UK sellers? How to use this awareness to your business advantage?
  • How can you sell internationally in an easy, hassle-free and profitable way?

To find answers to these and other questions, we talked to Paulina Bijok, the Head of the Sales Department and international ecommerce expert at Webinterpret.

paulina bijok ecommerce sales expert

Paulina Bijok, the Head of the Sales Department at Webinterpret

Interview with Paulina Bijok

What’s the impact of cultural values in global ecommerce?

Paulina: When you expand your client portfolio, your new customer segments are likely to differ from the ones you already know. It may be challenging for you to adapt to their different needs. What if your new customers come from different countries? Now your challenge is doubled.

It’s a no-brainer that you have to take cultural differences into account when selling your products internationally. Cultural peculiarities have an impact on customer preferences and their buying behaviors.

If you want to launch your online store in new marketplaces, an awareness of cultural differences will help you understand what to expect.

This can be related to some simple aspects that we may take for granted, such as everyday communication and the tone of voice. For example, Germans prefer a very formal communication tone. In contrast, Americans gravitate towards a more casual approach.

A good grasp of cultural differences will help you adjust your offer to market needs. This is also relevant for communication and marketing messages and driving traffic to your website.


What are other examples of cultural differences in ecommerce?

Paulina: For instance, the approach to security. Whether personal or sensitive data is perceived as safe in the case of online purchases varies across countries.

According to Symantec’s data, on average 57% of Europeans feel uneasy about the security of their data. It’s the biggest concern in Spain, where 78% of respondents don’t think it is safe. Germany comes second (62%). UK-based respondents showed the least concern (49%).

pbijok ecommerce expert global

Being familiar with such data, you will know that, for example, it’s important to reassure German customers that it’s absolutely safe to enter their payment details. You’ll know that it may take extra effort to win their trust or convince them to try new solutions.

At Webinterpret we know many similar facts from experience. Germans are very detail- and fact-oriented and want to know Terms & Conditions and the legal side. UK sellers, on the other hand, feel more trustful and confident when doing business online. They’re more open to testing new things and trying new solutions, advocating the let’s-do-it approach.

It’s also worth noting that a large proportion of our UK sellers originally come from Southern Asia. Compared to Brits born and raised in the UK, their original ‘South Asian’ cultural setup may mean … a different approach and set of expectations in business. For instance, they’re often happy to haggle and expect discounts before closing a deal.

If you want to launch your online store in new marketplaces, an awareness of cultural differences will help you understand what to expect.


How can you adjust your sales strategy according to culture-specific factors?

Paulina: Consider cultural events: local festivals, national holidays or days such as Black Friday in the US, Boxing Day in the UK or Carnival in Germany. They’re all fantastic opportunities to achieve extraordinary sales results.

So… You’re aware that the carnival season in Germany is in January and February. You conclude that your sales potential lies in selling fancy dress costumes when those months are approaching.

You decide to tweak your sales strategy by adjusting your product portfolio, e.g. focusing on costumes around the carnival time and a seasonal marketing promotion.

This is how you make the most of seasonality which is driven by culture-specific events.

It’s worth getting familiar with country-specific, seasonal local events and peak sales periods. These are the times when you can earn internationally even more than during the busy Christmas season!


What are the most frequently asked questions by UK and German sellers?

Paulina: The most common concerns of UK sellers include taxes and VAT, e.g. how it is calculated, how to issue invoices and how to declare sales made overseas.

Further, there are questions concerning returns and communication, such as who should pay returns postage in different countries. We’re also asked for support in communication with foreign buyers.

uk germanyAs to German sellers, they’re really curious about the legal situation and related regulations (AGBs: Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen). They find it really mind-boggling when no AGBs are applied on foreign markets.

Other questions relate to delivery and returns, communication with foreign buyers, global shipping options / prices, stock synchronization or item translation.

We talk to hundreds of sellers on a daily basis. Thanks to our ecommerce expertise and experience with global markets, we’re able to give our sellers guidance and crucial support in cross border trading.

We talk to hundreds of sellers on a daily basis. Thanks to our ecommerce expertise and experience with global markets, we’re able to give our sellers guidance and crucial support in cross border trading.


How to overcome challenges in cross-cultural communication?

Paulina: Accommodating cultural differences is essential for effective and efficient communication when closing a deal. Awareness is the starting point.

It’s not only about knowing the language, but also knowing how to use it. For instance, your approach to Germans in a business context must be fairly formal. You should use the form Sie or Frau/Herr (Mr/Ms) rather than the more casual you so commonly used in English-speaking countries.

In contrast to Brits, the way you communicate with Germans is more direct, very clear and detail-oriented. So the British Yes, but.. to imply a negative response may be a resounding No when communicating with a German person.


Are both German and UK sellers open to cross border trading?

Paulina: eBay’s European Sales Booster (ESB) is a program via which we list your best-selling items on European eBay sites. Analyzing conversion rates (the number of sellers who joined the program out of the ones who were invited to do so), we see a difference between British and German sellers.

paulina bijok international ecommerce sales expertThe conversion rate for sellers from the UK is around 50% and for those from Germany approximately 35% in the last 12 months.

It’s evident that both sellers from the UK and Germany are open to expanding their businesses on international marketplaces. Yet UK sellers are more easily persuaded to go for a new international sales experience.

This is in line with their willingness to test new solutions. They’re more enthusiastic about more unconventional ways of expanding their businesses. And, as I’ve mentioned before, German sellers are more careful and misstrauisch (distrustful). They need more time and information before taking the leap.


You‘ve helped thousands of international sellers increase their sales on global markets. How does Webinterpret facilitate selling internationally for its global customers?

Paulina: Webinterpret has helped over 25,000 online sellers expand their businesses on international markets. We know from experience not only how to help online merchants grow their sales, but also how to make the whole process smooth and hassle-free for them.

We offer a number of packages, addressing our clients’ individual needs. Depending on your marketplace, product and the amount you sell as well as the sales goal you want to achieve, we can choose a package that best caters to your needs.

Each client that starts selling with Webinterpret receives a welcome call. We do some background checks to get to know your business and ensure listing your items on international markets goes well.

We take special care of restrictions that could get you into trouble. For example, if you sell diet supplements or contact lenses and are considering selling them on the German online market … are you aware it’s forbidden to do so?

This is just one example. You may want to sell a bunch of other products on foreign markets. And sometimes it may not even cross your mind that there are countries where some products cannot be sold online.

We know such cases of restrictions and blacklist items that cannot be sold on specific markets. The process is automatic, which makes it efficient. At the same time it’s supervised by humans to ensure accuracy. It’s a real time-saver for our sellers.

We’re serious about providing necessary guidance: without it, navigating through international ecommerce waters is complex, time-consuming and at times confusing, especially when it comes down to specific regulations.

You may want to sell a bunch of different products on foreign markets. And sometimes it may not even cross your mind that there are countries where some products cannot be sold online.


pbijok international ecommerce sales expert

Where do you see ecommerce in 5 years?

Paulina: Ecommerce is experiencing constant growth. Globalization is in motion. Trends are changing. Thanks to rapid technological developments, what was impossible yesterday has become today’s reality.

The ecommerce industry is utterly dynamic so if you want to predict what will happen 5 years down the line … you may wish for a crystal ball and still see a very hazy picture. But let me try.

I’m expecting big changes in relation to user experience: even more simplicity, easiness and user-friendliness.

I see social media playing a big role as a sales channel. According to a BI Intelligence report, social media are driving more sales than email. So on top of Facebook, other social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram, will be used by store owners to promote, market and sell their products from within the app.

ecommerce revenue social media

Source: BI Intelligence

Further, considering current trends and data, I think we can expect a significant growth in sales in the Health & Personal Care category. Other categories that are likely to see growth in popularity are Media, Sporting & Hobby Goods, Electronics, Appliances, Computers and Clothing and Accessories.

When it comes to cross-cultural differences, I think we’ll need to stay culture-sensitive. We may be becoming more and more globally-oriented, but cultural programming is so strong that Germans will be … Germans and Brits will be … Brits.

Hence, cross-cultural awareness will be absolutely essential to ensure successful communication and sales strategies. Also, from the shopper’s perspective, offering a localized buying experience adapted to one’s cultural mindset will be a necessity.

Finally, I’m expecting the continuing rise of cross-border ecommerce and more online buyers shopping from foreign retailers. Growth-minded sellers shouldn’t miss out on all those hungry shoppers. Hence, I encourage them to test their sales potential on international markets: there has never been a better time to do so!


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Further reading

Sell more, optimising your international shipping: interview with Adrien Salvat
Strategies for growing your eCommerce sales: interview with Mark Ellis
Facts most online sellers didn’t know about eBay: interview with A. Figas
The future of international sales on Amazon: interview with M. Wejtko
Customer experience is key to long-term business success: interview with Dennis Otto
New ecommerce trends 2017 & onwards: interview with P. Smarzynski


Interested in our UNIQUE compilation of interviews with ecommerce experts? Download our FREE ebook now!

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