Why you should care
Because some say that if you’re a picky shopper, it might just mean you’re better off economically.
The American retail giant Walmart tried it. So did the French chain Intermarché and Belgium’s Delhaize for that matter. Each failed in its bid to break into the German market, and other foreign newcomers frequently have a hard time there, too. But why?
Because … German consumers have the highest standards in the world.
So says an international study of consumer behavior by Accenture based on responses from nearly 24,000 people in 33 countries. In today’s competitive retail landscape, even the most successful companies are struggling to keep up with consumer expectations. Germans, it turns out, are particularly high-maintenance. They expect quick-and-easy transactions regardless of how they’re making a purchase; expert advice; swift problem resolution; and, of course, low prices. They also seem to get frustrated very quickly if anything goes wrong.
When that does happen, they have no problem going somewhere else. It’s then difficult to win them back. “To keep them happy, Germans expect significantly more from their providers in every respect than customers in other markets do,” Accenture’s report says.
Like shoppers elsewhere around the world, Germans look into things before they buy. But an above-average proportion — 83 percent, Accenture found — go online to find out about household devices, clothes, bank services and energy suppliers. And they don’t stop there. “They refer to comments and product comparisons. And what their friends say counts for a lot,” says Sven Drinkuth, managing director for Accenture in Germany and head of the firm’s sales and customer services.
Yet that diligence obviously doesn’t pay off all the time, because companies often still fall short of buyers’ expectations. Indeed, frustration has risen in Germany in the past year. Eighty percent of dissatisfied customers grumble about unqualified workers, while a full 87 percent complain about companies’ false promises — both of which are markedly higher than in other mature consumer markets.
Frugality is no longer foremost. Trust is more important.
Sven Drinkuth, managing director for Accenture in Germany
For their part, Americans have similar levels of frustrations as their German counterparts, though their expectations aren’t as high. In fact, their level of frustration on certain issues — like putting up with hold times or dealing with someone who can’t answer questions — has remained relatively unchanged over the last five years.
But there’s nothing endemic to Germany’s culture that’s made consumers pickier. Rather, people tend to make these kinds of decisions based on their economic options — meaning those who have the means to choose different companies often do, which invariably builds higher standards, says Luke Mortensen, a senior analyst at the consultancy Conversant Media. Since Germans are fairly well-off compared with other markets, they can afford to be picky.
Their extremely high standards may also be linked to the intense competition for German consumers in recent years, when customers flexed their financial muscles by keeping their wallets tightly shut and saw prices drop. The end result is that for the first time in at least a decade, buyers are no longer putting the price tag ahead of every other factor in their purchasing decisions. “That’s a turning point for Germany,” says Drinkuth. “Frugality is no longer foremost. Trust is more important.”
Jose Fermoso contributed reporting.
This OZY encore was originally published April 12, 2015.