Cross-border e-commerce: Germany vs. UK

Despite us rarely using that 90’s buzzword ‚World Wide Web‘ these days, the internet remains just that: international.

You might take it as a given that in 2014, you can order products from all over the world andhave them delivered to your Treppenhaus within a matter of days.

But what if you can only find that coveted item from an online retailer abroad, and they haven’t translated the product information into a language you understand, a currency you’re familiar with, or worse still, offer no international delivery?

The UK and Germany are Europe’s top dogs when it comes to online retail sales, but how do they perform when it comes to the crucial European cross-border market? Using data from Berlin-based price comparison site, idealo*, we take a look at the cross-border landscape in Germany and the UK.

Idealo Map
Percentage of shoppers on and who are based in the UK and Germany respectively. Image: © Idealo/Florian Pfennig

Customers crossing borders

Based on recent statistics, 68% of users on are shopping from the UK, meaning almost a third of shoppers are browsing from abroad. We see quite a stark contrast on, where 93% of users are located in Germany.

Let’s see how these results tally with cross-border features of the top 50 idealo partner shops in Germany and the UK.

Language barriers

38% of the German shops in the study offer their shops in either multiple languages or have a dedicated country site, compared to just 10% of the UK shops.

Despite the higher proportion of international shoppers on their e-commerce sites, UK online retailers are seemingly heavily reliant on English as the lingua franca.

Further sales from international customers could be won if they targeted them in their own language. Some German retailers, whilst having made a more concerted effort to attract other language users, are missing out on a a huge potential growth market with more than 60% not having yet taken this step.

International delivery

A language-specific site is the first crucial step in convincing consumers to shop cross-border, but if you aren’t offering the right delivery options, then how are consumers meant to get their hands on the goods? How do the German and British shops fare in the international delivery stakes?

Idealo international deliveryPercentage of UK and German partner shops that offer international delivery.
Image: © Idealo/Florian Pfennig

On, 32% of the shops surveyed offer international delivery to customers – this is a bit of a blow to the international community in Berlin who might be after some British shopping comforts abroad. In comparison, Germany pips the UK to the post again, with a much larger 68% of shops offering international delivery.

Currency & payment

Given that the UK is outside the Euro-zone, offering payment in Euros or other local currencies would be a sure-fire way of fostering ties with international customers. However, the research shows that just 12% of the shops looked at offered payment in a currency other than Pounds Sterling.

In Germany, the currency situation is not so crucial, seeing as so many of its neighbouring countries are fellow Euro-users. German online shops seem to be relying on this, with just 2% of shops in the German study offering alternative currency options.

Idealo foreign currenciesPercentage of UK and German partner shops that offer payment in foreign currencies.
Image: © Idealo/Florian Pfennig

In addition to Germany’s reliance on the Euro, they are also seemingly more complicated when it comes to payment options. PayPal for example, is one of the most popular methods of transferring money internationally, yet many German shops charge a premium if users choose this payment option, whereas UK shops tend to absorb this extra cost as standard.

Summary: The cross-border challenge

Despite the greater amount of international traffic on the UK idealo site mirroring reports that the British cross-border retail market is the more developed, German e-commerce sites are seen to be making a more concerted effort on the whole when it comes to cross-border features.

Compared to the UK shops, a user browsing a German web shop is more likely to be offered product information and advice in their own language, and the option of having their items delivered internationally. Granted, Germany lags behind in currency options, but given that even without offering further currencies, a minimum of 17 further Euro-zone markets are automatically reached, this isn’t such a huge issue.

SEE ALSO: What’s it like to work for Idealo?

The UK shops in the study on the other hand seems to be reticent in things cross-border – foreign currency and delivery were seemingly overlooked by the British retailers, but the fact that many of the shops didn’t offer language-specific sites has not stopped a large proportion of shoppers browsing UK e-commerce sites from abroad.

If the UK and Germany want to stay ahead of the worldwide e-commerce game, retailers would be wise to work on their cross-border offering to make the most of the future growth market it represents.

*We’ve undertaken a study of the top 50 partner shops based on clicks and Alexa rank from and, to see what they have to entice potential cross-border customers. This article is based on a wider study of cross-border online shopping in Europe. To read the full study, check out the idealo B2B blog at

Feature image: Close Up Of A Man Shopping Online Using Laptop With Credit Card via Shutterstock / copyright: Rido

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