A Day in the Life What Makes the Average German Tick?

Part 7: How Germans Shop and Consume

5:00 p.m. How the Germans shop and consume

Wolfgang Twardawa is standing in a Rewe supermarket in a suburb of the western German city of Nuremberg. A thickset, 64-year-old man, he is wearing a dark coat and a red tie. It is 5:00 p.m., almost exactly the time at which Germans are most likely to shop. Germans spend an average of 10 minutes a day shopping, and the amount of time they spend in shops is steadily declining. Twardawa is the head of consumer research at the Association for Consumer and Market Research (GfK) in Nuremberg, one of the five largest market research institutes in the world.

At GfK, roughly 9,000 employees gather market information from 90 countries. They analyze consumer behavior and purchasing decisions in 20,000 German households, capturing the data with so-called in-home scans, a sort of electronic diary in which consumers record the types of goods they buy as well as the prices and locations of their purchases. Twardawa has been in charge of GfK's consumer panel division for the past 35 years.

The composite average Germans created by advertising agency Jung von Matt -- Sabine Müller and Thomas Müller -- consume according to what market researcher Twardawa calls their "gender-specific involvement." In other words, very differently. She buys mostly food, cosmetics and clothing. He craves power and control, loves numbers and machines and buys technology: mobile phones, Blackberrys, laptops and, most of all, cars. More and more cosmetics are being sold for the metrosexual man. Twenty-five years ago, cosmetics giant Nivea had only one male skin care product in its line-up. Today it has 20. Nowadays, 42 percent of the buyers of a Dyson vacuum cleaner are men, and companies market full-body shavers and everything imaginable for joggers and amateur chefs. Otherwise, however, not much has changed.

"When it comes to consumption behavior, emancipation has stood still since the 1960s," says Twardawa." The person who evaluates, selects and buys products is the critical factor, and that person is still Sabine Müller.

In the shopping arena, the man is usually in charge of little more than heavy and bulky items. He drives to beverage supermarkets once a week, on average, where he buys in bulk. The typical German woman shops three to four times as much as her male counterpart, using the family's second car to buy smaller and more sophisticated products, as well as necessities.

Fifty-four percent of Germans say they pay attention to price first when shopping.

Fifty-four percent of Germans say they pay attention to price first when shopping.

Eighty thousand brands are advertised on the German market alone, twice as many brands as there were 20 years ago. Nowadays, German shops are open for longer hours, and as a society, Germany is becoming more flexible as it ages. In fact, nothing is the way it used to be. A decade ago, stores still closed early in the evening on working days and early in the afternoon on Saturdays. Today, you can shop in many cities until 10 p.m. or midnight six days out of the week.

Twardawa embarks on his tour of an ordinary supermarket. He walks past three registers, keeping to the right. "Germans walk to the right," he says, "unless they're left-handed." By the time he gets to the produce department, says Twardawa, the typical consumer pulls out his shopping list. It typically includes laundry detergent, coffee, milk and frozen items.

"Germans painstakingly plan their shopping," he says. "They don't like to shop, and they want to be able to find the items on their list without wasting any time." When it comes to the frequency and duration of shopping for so-called "fast-moving consumer goods," or necessities, the older the consumer, the more frequent the shopping. A 24-year-old woman goes shopping on 116 days each year, while a 70-year-old woman does it more than twice as often, namely on 247 days. Young people are more likely to shop in self-service supermarkets than at smaller stores with counter service.

The combined purchasing power of all Germans equals €1.488 trillion ($2.381 trillion) a year, or €18,000 ($28,800) per capita. In 2008, each German will spend about €700 ($1,120) more than in 2006, which means that affluence is growing faster than inflation.

On average, a Germans spend a quarter of their income on rent and rapidly rising incidental rental expenses, like electricity, gas and water. About 10 percent of incomes are saved or invested. Spending on entertainment has increased slightly. While the English value service, the French variety and the Italians tend decide spontaneously what they want to buy, Germans are considered both environmentally conscious consumers and bargain-hunters.

The idea that thriftiness is cool, the rallying cry of consumers for whom quality is not paramount, may be a trend that has already seen its day, but Germans are nevertheless still looking for savings. Fifty-four percent of Germans say that they pay attention to price first when shopping, while only 44 percent look for quality -- the highest level in Europe.

The discount supermarket is a German invention. The Albrecht brothers invented Aldi in the 1950s, and other discounters followed, including Penny, Norma, Netto and Lidl. Every second European discounter has its headquarters in Germany, and the average German lives within a five-minute drive of at least three different discounters.

Market researcher Twardawa behaves like many men in his age group. He rarely shops, instead leaving the task to his wife. Sometimes he carries her shopping bags to the car. And when his wife tries on dresses in the city's boutiques, he walks across the market square in Nuremberg, his favorite place to shop, or waits for her in a tavern.


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