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Letter from Germany: The top ten online retailers

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After a year of consolidation in the German economy, retailers are looking ahead towards a year of growth. During the holiday season retailers saw a strong private consumption, and spending on New Year’s Eve fireworks is expected to surpass that in 2008 at more than 100 million euros.

There are other positive signals from the recovering economy. The Institute für Wirtschaftsforschung (Ifo) has raised its widely quoted index for nine months in a row, showing a positive economic outlook for most German companies. Growth is finally reaching the “real economy”, meaning the manufacturing industry. Opel, for instance, has now become the second largest car manufacturer in Germany, next to Volkswagen.

In internet retailing, two of the largest consumer electronics retailers, Saturn and Media Markt, which both belong to MSH Holding and the Metro Group, have announced they will go online again, after suspending their non-profitable ecommerce activities in October 2007.

The new sites will be online in the first half of 2010, and the venture will be run in cooperation with Fiege, a logistics service provider based in Greven. Service will start in Austria and the Netherlands at first, with the two companies planning to extend the venture into other European countries. The new online offering will allow consumers to order online from a range of more than 16,000 items, covering everything from small electrical appliances to washing machines.

The internet plays an increasingly important role in retailing, as pointed out in my last letter from Germany. However, take a good look a the online presences of the largest etailers and you will be disappointed at how old fashioned and boring their websites look. The Deutsche Institut für Service-Qualität (Disq) has rated the top ten etailers in Germany, and when it came to service quality many of them were found wanting.

In the Disq ranking, is number one, earning 73 out of 100 possible points with their shipping making a particularly good impression. Cyberport in Dresden finished second with 72 out of 100. According to Disq, Cyberport operates a very good online presence. Otto, the largest all-rounder, ended up in third place, commended for the quality of its call centre support. Conrad, Redcoon, Quelle, Alternate, Mindfactory, Home of Hardware and Pixmania rounded out the top ten.

Disq criticised shortcomings on the quality of shipping, phone support (sometimes virtually unintelligible) and, above all, the quality of the homepages of the etailers. This last comes as a slight surprise since, after all, IT shops claim to be on the forefront of technology and service quality. Design, look, navigation, and usability were found wanting. Vendors of fashion, trend and luxury articles are, however, operating websites which are much more innovative than the IT shops.

Best wishes for a successful year 2010!

Michael Matzer, editor Germany

• You can send news and press releases concerning your activities in Germany — in English or German — to

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