As shoppers battle the weather and the crowds to face the January sales, when it comes to clothes shopping in Germany, many consumers turn to the internet to fulfil their needs. In fact, Mintel’s research has found that by shopper numbers, Amazon is the country’s third most popular retailer for apparel, regardless of whether consumers are buying online or in-store.

Our research shows that when clothes shopping online or in-store, over a quarter (27%) of German consumers bought from Amazon in the past year, behind just two other retailers, C&A, at 41% and H&M at 38%.

And when looking at just online purchases of clothing, Amazon is the most popular site by a wide margin, with H&M (13%) and C&A (10%) falling well behind its 27% share of shoppers.

The German clothing market has a substantial number of long-standing specialist retailers, which makes the foothold gained by Amazon all the more impressive. In the UK, by contrast, Amazon is the eighth most used retailer for clothing overall, by shopper numbers – although when looking only at online purchases Amazon.co.uk is the most popular website, just as its counterpart is in Germany.

27% of German consumers bought from Amazon in the past year

So why is Amazon.de so popular for apparel?

First, Germany has a strong heritage of home-shopping for clothes through catalogues, which has allowed pureplays like Amazon to build share effectively: it is more of a natural step for a catalogue shopper to switch to internet shopping, than for a store-based customer to do so. And the growth in pureplays has likely contributed to the demise of some long-standing catalogue retailers like Neckermann.

Second, some store-based specialists have been slow to launch transactional sites: AWG Mode started selling online in 2012, while Kik, BONITA and Sinn Leffers only launched transactional sites in 2013. And where they have launched online, store-based retailers have tended to promote the convenience of click-and-collect services much less than in the UK. Indeed, some, like Kik, still do not offer click-and-collect.

Finally, Amazon’s popularity possibly also reflects the prominence of relatively conservative domestic specialists in the German market: C&A, Kik, Peek & Cloppenburg and Esprit, for instance, tend to offer conservative product for slightly more mature shoppers. Amazon stands apart from them by offering wide brand choice and keen pricing, so it is well placed to cater to the internationalisation of tastes in younger fashion.

Other fashion pureplays are attempting to harness opportunities as Amazon has: Boohoo.com launched a German site in 2014, for example, following rival Asos’s launch in Germany back in 2010.

What are the lessons?

  • Given the context, there’s no reason to think other internet-only retailers, like new entrant Boohoo.com, cannot carve substantial share in the German apparel market.
  • Meanwhile, store-based clothing retailers in Germany need to compete more effectively with online-only retailers. They need to fight back by rolling out and promoting services such as click-and-collect and in-store returns.
  • And the lesson for retailers in other European markets such as those in Southern Europe is, do not leave it too late to launch a convincing e-commerce proposition: if you do not offer this to your customers, someone else probably will.
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