Online trading has been a growth market for many years.

In the Corona crisis, however, the trend towards online shopping is increasing again.

According to the Institute for Retail Research (IfH), sales in 2020 rose at least twice as much as in the previous year to between 80 and 88 billion euros.

In an interview, Gero Furchheim, President of the Federal Association of E-Commerce and Mail Order Germany (BEVH) explains why he expects the numbers to continue to rise sharply.

In addition, the entrepreneur, who himself runs the designer furniture mail order company Cairo from Groß-Umstadt in Hesse, talks about the package tax proposed by politicians and the failures of downtown retailers.



Mr. Furchheim, 50,000 store closures are threatened in stationary retail, reports the industry association HDE.

Online trading, on the other hand, is leaping from record to record.

Is your industry the inner city gravedigger?

Gero Furchheim:

This is actually how the mailers are currently being stamped.

But I defend myself against it.

We are not the gravedigger of the inner cities.

Many of them have a completely transfigured view of the retail landscape, which has long since ceased to be determined by small, owner-managed specialist shops - as much as these are dear to consumers' hearts.

Of course, online trading puts pressure on the competition and can steadily increase its market share, currently particularly particularly.

But there are reasons.

In addition, attacks on the inner city come from a completely different side.


Where from?



The competition also includes discounters, outlets and shopping centers.

In addition, current and expected vacancies in city centers also have to do with rents that are far too high, with inadequate traffic concepts and with restrictions on opening times such as the ban on individual Sundays that are open for sale.

Landlords, politicians and trade unions are good at pointing to online retail when things are going badly in the city center.


You mentioned that there are good reasons for the increasing market shares of online trading.

Which are they?


Corona and the lockdown are currently a special situation that has an accelerating effect.

The development towards online also existed long before that.

The behavior and demands of consumers have simply changed.

And we can meet these new needs.

This applies to the wide selection, for example.

Consumers no longer want to limit themselves to whether, for example, a piece of clothing in the right color or the right size happens to be in the store.

The subject of customer ratings is also extremely important.

And we have proven in the Corona period that we are also suitable as a basic provider.

In the past, we still had a target for advice and inspiration.

But we can also represent that extremely well in e-commerce today.



What areas of attack do downtown retailers offer?


There are many retailers who have eagerly experimented and searched for answers in this competition.

I would never speak of guilt or complicity if business doesn't go as hoped.

But it must also be said that there are enough retailers who somehow hoped in their hearts that the Internet would end again at some point and have therefore not tried anything.

The scissors are still there in the head.

They will face massive problems in the coming months and years, as will those providers and formats that are interchangeable and do not provide a convincing answer to the question of why I as a customer should not buy via e-commerce.

It has to be said so hard: Today a lot has simply fallen out of time.

Anyone who is just starting to think about how digitization works will be left behind that can no longer be made up.


CDU and CSU want to protect these dealers and are now proposing a package tax to save the inner cities.

Furchheim: At

first that stunned me.

In the meantime, however, I see it more as an attempt to get into the media by building up images of the enemy in a time with little news.

So I thought it was good that the stationary trade did not allow itself to be harnessed to this cart.

Unsurprisingly, such a proposal was also rejected there.

Because in the end you don't punish the online giants that you might have had in mind, but primarily the medium-sized retailers that have built up an online pillar.

Every further step towards e-commerce is burdened with this.

And allow me one more tip ...


... which one?


Deutsche Post is fighting hard to achieve record profits.

That will certainly please the shareholder Blackrock with his 5.08 percent of the shares.

But 50 percent of the profits ultimately flow into the federal treasury.

So there is a lot going on that is just not called package tax.

This money could also be put into aid for dealers or the revitalization of inner cities.


issue of how to deal with returns is a constant issue.

Politicians are planning a so-called duty of care so that returned goods do not end up in the trash.

What's your point of view?



No retailer is interested in their goods ending up in the trash.

So you don't have to legally stipulate a duty of care.

Another point would be much more important: It is completely unacceptable that a retailer has to pay sales tax if he gives away goods that are no longer usable, but at the same time no taxes are due if he destroys the goods.

That must finally be regulated by politics.

It cannot be that politicians raise their index finger to warn but not do their own homework beforehand.

The duty of care is now in the Recycling Management Act, but the pending regulation on this must not turn it into a bureaucratic monster with protocol obligations that can hardly be implemented.


How long can the online boom continue and what dimensions do you expect?


We haven't talked about boom for a long time.

Because a boom is a flash in the pan.

And online trading really isn't.

Clubhouse is booming.

But we have had double-digit growth rates for many years.

And that can go on for a long time.

I see practically no limit.


What about the logistics and the deliverers?


Logistics that can plan to deal with double-digit growth rates can prepare and organize their organization more effectively.

If more is ordered, the electric cargo bike may also be worthwhile for delivery for individual streets or districts.

It becomes problematic with sudden growth.

As a result, there were a few capers in the past year.

Nevertheless, it went very well and stably.

In addition, there are still plenty of opportunities for innovation: I see potential, for example, in the subject of delivery locations with topics such as parcel delivery in the trunk of parked cars, delivery by drone or with delivery robots.

Germany is still very cautious about this; there is significantly more experimentation abroad.


Do you see areas in which online will only play a minor role in the long term?

Or does e-commerce permeate all areas of trade like the octopus?


I wouldn't use an octopus as a picture now.

We are more like the dear elephant that sticks its trunk in everywhere and sniffs.

There are really opportunities everywhere.

That shows more and more.

Take my domain, the furniture trade.

It was always said that people want to try out sofas, beds and cupboards and get personal advice.

The online share is now almost 20 percent.

At our company we recently had a customer with a shopping cart worth 96,000 euros, which he simply clicked together in the web shop.

We didn't believe it ourselves and considered the whole thing to be a fake and therefore asked for prepayment.

When the money arrived shortly afterwards, we also knew that it was a serious order.

And then we didn't pack small packages, but sent a large truck.

What I want to say with this anecdote: I don't see any limits.

E-commerce can and will play a role in every area.

Even topics such as fresh flowers can be digitized, for example through a flower subscription from the Internet.

You can even order semi-hard cheese from a specialist in the area around Osnabrück.

Because unlike the weekly market, hidden rarities are also searched for online.

The topic of grocery shipping has already picked up speed in the Corona crisis.



To what extent are online retailers now actually pushing themselves into stationary retail?

Amazon has already opened stores in America.


If rents in city centers are reduced to a normal level again in the wake of the crisis, it can be of great interest to many online retailers.

The topic of omnichannel is regularly recommended by experts to stationary retail.

But it doesn't have to be a one-way street.

Changing subject areas can then be shown and turned into an experience.

Or you just present the bestsellers in a stationary manner.

We have enough data on sales figures in online retail.

Amazon does this in its stores in the US.

There are so-called “Unputdownable” shelves in the books area with those books that have been devoured on the Kindle reader within three days.

That really has a future.

But again: it has to pay off economically in the end.

So a lot depends on the landlords.


To what extent is the industry working on new packaging?

The Federal Environment Agency warns that there is far too much packaging waste in Germany and that online retail is not responsible for this.


There are interesting approaches to the reusability of packaging.

The most important trend, however, is that separate shipping packaging is increasingly being dispensed with.

Because if the sales packaging is designed in such a way that it can also be used as shipping packaging, there is no additional packaging waste compared to the store.

There is currently a lot of dialogue between online retailers and manufacturers.

At the same time, work is being done to reduce volume by cutting packages from the corresponding systems so that there is hardly any air in the boxes.

This also takes up less space during transport and thus protects the environment.