Currently, there are some 270 members (both large and small companies) of the German Mail Order Association (the BVH or Bundesverband des Deutschen Versandhandels e. V.) involved in the ever-growing business of long distant and local product selling. These companies use sales channels such as catalogs, the Internet (Online Shopping), direct sales, and or television (TeleShopping) to distribute their products. Some companies have a small product range, while some of the larger companies offer over 100,000 articles in their catalog sales alone. Statistically, Germany is reported to have more specialty providers than general retailers; and thanks to the stress-free home shopping its distance-selling turnover in 2008 totaled 28.6 billion Euros. BVH members generated approximately 75% of that reported turnover.

Catalog Shopping in Germany

In spite of the dramatic increase in online shopping, German mail order houses still send out hundreds of different types of catalogs directly to mail boxes throughout the country and the popularity of catalogs remains very high. When “The Wall” came down some 20 years ago it opened up a huge customer base hungry for the newest and flashiest products from the “West”. Sales from catalogs surged by close to 50% for many of the catalog houses.

Most of the large catalog houses publish a main catalog that can have up to several hundred pages. And, they usually offer a large variety of “specialty” catalogs from different suppliers that have a smaller number of pages. There are also seasonal catalogs that are sent out at different times throughout the year.

Catalog houses advertise heavily so you may receive something unsolicited in the mail. Sometimes it’s the catalog itself or a self-addressed postcard with an invitation to order the catalog. Larger houses, such as Otto or Heine may send regular postcard invitations asking ‘occupants’ to fill-in and return the card for a free gift. Or, you can use the buddy system. This means if a friend has a catalog you like and refers you to that particular catalog house, your new home-shopping buddy receives a nifty gift while you get a catalog. With your name on ‘the list’ you’ll be surprised at how many new catalogs or invitations to order new catalogs you’ll receive.

You can also visit the website of a mail order house you want to shop with and order the catalog there. Many catalog houses will not send catalogs nor will they process or send orders to addresses outside of Germany. Some will send catalogs and orders to neighboring countries, but for the most part companies will not send out catalogs or orders to overseas addresses. The best way to find out if you can receive a catalog if you are outside of Germany is to visit a company’s website. On the catalog order page there will normally be an explanation of who can receive a catalog and subsequent orders. High shipping costs and import taxes on items are often deterrents to offering catalogs and products to overseas customers.

The big catalog houses are OttoKlingelWenzBader and SchwabOtto also runs the Quelle online shopping site that offers many specialty catalogs. There are also dozens of specialty catalogs from individual companies offering every product imaginable. Büro PlusDiscountMiscoStaples, and Printus are some of the mail order houses that offer a wide range of office supplies from paper clips to computer parts, programs, cables, disks, CD-ROMs and other administrative necessities.

If you are shopping from your new catalog, placing orders requires only the most rudimentary German language skills. Order forms in the catalog are simple and easy to read. There’s a place for your name and complete address and if it’s your first time to order you may be required to give your date of birth. This is needed for a background credit check. The majority of the mail order houses bank on the fact that German residents are registered with the local police, thus eliminating or lessening the chances for fraud. To order the merchandise using an order form from the catalog fill in the product or item number, then the number of items desired, color, size and price. You are required to sign and date the form before mailing or faxing it in. If you feel comfortable speaking German, you can always phone in your order. Many mail order houses have 24-hour operators on duty. In many cases you can go to the website of the catalog company and put in the item number from the catalog and proceed from there.

Payment terms are usually uncomplicated. Most mail order houses set a credit limit for first-time customers. When you reach that limit they notify you per post that some or most of your order cannot be filled. Other houses require first-timers to pay upon receipt. If you are an established customer you can exercise options: pay upon receipt (which usually means after the first 14 days, provided you’re going to keep the order); pay with a credit card; or pay in monthly installments (3, 6 or 9 months, with an understood set rate of interest). If you select to pay in monthly installments but end up paying the amount in full before the monthly rate is due, you can telephone the mail order customer service department to have the interest charges adjusted.


Germany has just as many, if not more, television shopping channels as most developed countries. The most popular television channels are QVC, RTL and Channel 21. There are also a number of shopping channels that specialize in certain product categories. If you get your TV signal from a satellite and have a program guide on your satellite receiver, you’ll be able to see just how many television shopping channels you can get.

As with television shopping channels in other countries there are round the clock product demonstrations of different products. Blocks of time are normally set for different product categories – household goods, home improvement etc. Ordering can either be done by telephone or over the internet. It’s important to pay attention to details regarding shipping costs, product availability and any other hidden fees that may be involved.

Online Shopping

Online shopping in Germany is very popular and the experience is quite similar to online shopping in just about all other countries. There are websites that aggregate and consolidate various items from different suppliers. There are specialized sites that only offer online ordering. There are websites for major chain stores and department stores as well as websites for smaller, independently operated stores that will process and ship orders from online customers. (Many stores that offer British, American and other food specialties have online sites.) And, of course, there is the German version of Amazon and Ebay.

Anyone that has done any online shopping will be familiar with the procedures. Ordering over the Internet requires only clicking your product, the quantity desired, size, and price, then deposit it in your shopping cart. When you are finished, click to check out and your ordere will be automatically totaled. You will be asked how you want to pay, and where the order should be delivered. It’s that simple.

Shipping and return policies

For many, home shopping offers great convenience. There is nothing to compare with being able to flip open a catalog, go online or turn on the television to shop to your heart’s content. Shipping and return policies may, however, vary from company to company.

When items are ordered from a catalog company, online shop or over the phone a customer should have already closely examined the shipping and return policies. Some companies may include shipping costs with the price of the item(s), some may add additional shipping costs based on the size or number of ordered items. As far as returning items, it is up to the customer to pay close attention to those policies, too. There may be postal charges for returning items. In the case of used items or items or special offers, it may not be possible to return them at all.

Items are shipped through the German Post or by other shipping companies such as Hermes Logistik, Deutsche Pakete Dienst (DPD), DHL, and UPS.

The catalog houses, for the most part, offer relatively liberal return policies. If, for instance, an item of clothing is the wrong size or wrong color it can normally be returned easily at no cost. Some catalog companies will pick up the item, but the most popular way to return an item is to put it back in the original packaging and take it to the post office. There will usually be a return address label with the item. When it is dropped off at the post office they will take the package with the label, detach a receipt, stamp it and give to you so you have proof that the item was returned.

Useful Glossary

Bestellgrößeorder sizes
Bestellscheinorder form
BH Größenbra sizes
Damengrößenfemale sizes
Ersatzlieferungreplacement delivery
Hüft/Gesaessumfanghips and/or seat area
Kaufpreispurchase price
Kauf und Probepurchase to test
Korsagen, Bodys, Korsettesgirdles, bodies, corsettes
Körpergrößeheight or body measurements
Kostenanteil (as in Versandkostenanteil)part of (shipping and delivery) costs
Kosten des WiederrufsCosts for order cancellation
Kurzgrößeshort sizes
Kundennummercustomer number
Längenangabenmeasurements of body lengths (i.e., length from underarm to waist, or length of arms from shoulder to wrist, or legs from hip to foot, etc.)
Lieferbedingungendelivery specifications
Normalgrößennormal sizes
Oberweite/Brustumfangmeasurements for chest (male) and breast or upper body (female)
Taillenumfang/Bundweitemeasurements for waistline
Teilzahlungpayments in rates
Unterbrust-Umfangarea just beneath the breast line
Versand/Lieferserviceshipping and delivery service
Vertragsabschlusscontract policy
Wiederrufsbelehrungcancellation and return policy

Note: Every catalog has a page for tips on how to order their clothing items. It is advised to search out this page and read it for special tips regarding the differences in tailoring; especially in catalogs that offer items for the tall and lean, or the heavy and otherwise persons of shorter statue.

Cup sizes for brassieres range from Cup A (small, 82 – 84); Cup B (middle 84 – 86); Cup C (full, 86 – 88); but Cup sizes C – F should always be measured according to the actual breast measurements. The same goes for underwear such as panties or stockings for females, the measurements should be of the waistline or the actual dress size.

A Word About Clothing Sizes

Clothing sizes in Germany differ from those elsewhere in Europe as well as the U.S. and Canada. In America, women’s clothing sizes are measured starting with 4 as the smallest, in Germany the smallest dress size for a woman is a 34 (based on the measurements of chest, waist and hips in centimeters.) The smallest bra size is 70 (cup A, B, or C); the largest size is 115. Panties, on the other hand, are the same size as one dress: a woman who wear size 38 in a dress will probsbly take size 38 panties. In ladies’ shoes, Germany’s size 36 is England’s 3 – 4, and America’s size 6. Size 8 -10 in America represents a size 38 – 40 in Germany and a size 12 – 14 in the U.K.

In men’s clothing, the sizes S, M, L, XL and XXL are widely used. In numbers the sizes range from 46/48 being the smallest and 62 the largest. Measurements in centimeters are still taken according to the chest and neck size for shirts, vests, jackets and overcoats, while trousers are measured at the inseam and waist. Shoe sizes for men range from 39 (a size 7 in both the U.S. and U.K.) to a size 47 (13 in both the U.S. and U.K.).