EDIT: The biggest payment variant I was thinking of is direct debit (German: Lastschrift), which is highly convenient. However, wiring the money before getting the goods is also surprisingly popular here. Many people just don't have credit cards. (I do, but I also use some US services like Github which only allow credit card payments.)
Thank you for your time.
In the case of my (free and completely standard) account that’s exactly zero Euro for every wire transfer. (You cannot transfer more than €50,000 and, as I already said, only Euro.)
Wire transfers are a very common way to pay for stuff in Germany and it’s very easy to get accounts that have free wire transfers. I would even speculate that most banks offer free wire transfers (I would at least be surprised if a bank told me that I have to pay for wire transfers) but I can’t be sure about that.
You are not using wire transfer companies in Germany, you just tell your bank the amount, name, account number (IBAN if it’s going outside of Germany), bank name and number (SWIFT-BIC if it’s going outside of Germany) and purpose of the wire transfer and you are all set.
That's the rates _from_ Germany to any EU country. So I wouldn't pay for a wire to France, but I don't know what a French person would pay to wire to me. The regulations only say that EU wires need to have the same price as national wires.
This is how you pay: the bank earn the interest rate for those two days.
Besides, transfers within my country (Denmark) to other banks arrives next day. If you pay for the transfer, you can get the money transferred immediately. So next day = free, same day = pay.
For free transfers I don't get interest rate for the day when the money leave my account. The recipient don't get interest rate for the day he receives the money. So even if the transfer only takes a few hours (If I pay just after midnight, he'll have the money at 6am), the bank earns interest rate for 2 days.
Banks transfer huge amount of money so the interest rate adds up for them.
In Germany, your ATM card is basically always a direct debit card that gets accepted anywhere (causes the shops lower fees than credit cards), so that takes care of one part of the Visa/MasterCard angle, and for online transactions direct debit rules the game, taking care of the other half. Services like paypal use direct debit a lot in the background.
(So the only "missing" part is credit card debt, usually you can't accrue that much debt on your direct debit account)
Within the Eurozone, however, it's quite nice.
Those foreign currency fees can be a bit tricky, even for credit cards. I've got two MasterCards, one of them adds a 1% fee if it isn't in Euro, the other doesn't (well, I got it exactly for that reason).
We have the same direct-debit system in Norway, called BankAxept, which is managed by a consortium of banks; banks typically issue cards with both Visa and BankAxept built in. However, BankAxept does not work with online payments.
A new system, BankAxess, has been launched for online payments, but it has not been widely implemented yet, so most online stores offer payment by Visa/Mastercard. Visa/MC's fees are somewhat exuberant, so most stores also offer COD and payment by wire transfer as alternative options.
Direct debits as a seller: You file the direct debit with your bank. This can normally be done online through a web interface or various APIs (e.g. HBCI). The transaction is then processed through the Eurozone's TARGET2 system, i.e. the amount is withdrawn from the buyer's bank account and credited to the seller's bank account. This works in the entire Eurozone and is supposed to not take longer than a day. In practice, some countries take longer. E.g. I've seen payments between Germany and Italy take 3 days, but between Germany and France or within Germany it always takes 1 day.
The only payment method that works with recurring and more or less "final/instant" transactions is credit card.
So there is no alternative for SaaS or in-app-payments to credit cards (or some direct debit risk mitigation business like paypal)
This sounds highly doubtful. Care to explain?
There is no validation except some nummerical tests. You can enter the number of some charity or your landlord when doing an order at e.g. Amazon.
To deal with that risk, every bank account holder has the right to chargeback transactions without giving a reason. That's why banks typically keep a lot of the money you invoice for a grace period of approx 6-8 weeks. And companies like Otto have their own credit check companies…
tl;dr if you instantly deliver items or services, direct debit is not safe.
That is... simply not true. Or perhaps I am misunderstanding what you are saying. There isn't a bank in the EU that will allow you to make a transfer from an account that's not yours (authenticated by whatever means - card readers, digipass, RSA keychain gadgets that display a new number sequence every minute, etc.).
Safe payment methods are advance payment (since there's no reason to allow someone to charge back an order they've explicitely placed at their bank) and cash on delivery (though that's expensive). Which is why some large merchants (eg. Neckermann) restrict payment options to these two for the first transaction.