Web Paces German Mail-Order Sales

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Higher Internet sales paced the growth of the German mail-order business last year, accounting for more than $1 billion, or 5.3 percent of more than $20 billion in total sales.

"The Web is helping us win new customers all the time," Klaus Wirth, president of the German mail-order association, said at a press conference in Frankfurt, Germany. "We also increase customer loyalty and refine customer contact."

Orders placed on the Internet, he noted, are treated the same as mail, phone or fax orders, since the same infrastructure is in place as for paper catalog orders -- from acceptance to delivery and after-sales activity.

"That helps us make profits on the Web others cannot match as yet," Wirth said. "Weaving online and offline businesses together makes the Web another channel through which the customer can place an order."

The German retail trade, on the other hand, is still waiting for the Internet boom to begin. Though gross numbers are higher than in the mail-order business, the percentage of Web sales is an anemic 0.5 percent -- $5 billion of almost $1 trillion in total sales across Germany.

Retailers must offer customers added value to push them into Web-based transactions, said Andreas Pruefer, CEO of an online tire company. He provides online advice regarding price, model and quality with orders delivered to home or office. The Hanover, Germany-based start-up earned about $6.5 million last year and expects to boost sales to nearly $15 million this year. The company is already profitable.


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