Student Theses and Projects: How Platforms Change Ecosystems: An Analysis of the Digital Transformation in Retail

Thesis (MA) - Reference number 2020-233

Advisor: Timo Böttcher


It is nothing new, that the digital transformation changes the value creation of firms. Both research and practice are well aware, that digital technology, shifting consumer expectations and the ever increasing dynamicity of environments pose challenges for firms to sustain or build a competitive advantage. For digital platforms, we observe winner-take-all markets, where only few platforms sustain and occupy most of the market share. Network effects are one reason why this is the case.

For creating these network effects, a platform owner needs to know and understand the ecosystem the platform participates in. The platform is dependent on value co-creation with both complementers and customers. For example, Uber itself as a platform does not create value. Only if drivers provide their service and customers demand this service, value is created for all three actors. Hence, Uber needs to understand the interests, challenges and relationships of its ecosystem.

On the other side, Uber (as well as other digital platforms) is considered a disruptive innovation to the taxi industry. The service is easier, simpler, more convenient and last but not least digitally available. The interesting thing, that often is not considered, when analysing the disruptive potential of platforms, are actors on the edge of the ecosystem one hardly thinks about. For example, the airport San Francisco charges taxis a airport fee, when they start a trip from the airport. Therefore, all taxis needed a transponder, so that the airport knew about the trips and could charge the taxi companies. But you cannot force private drivers, such as those offering their service on Uber, to install a transponder in their private car. So the airport nearly lost this value stream.

The research project Knowledge4Retail ( aims to create a digital data platform that enables such innovations based on a digital twin of the store. For such a ”new entrant” into the ecosystem of retail, various open questions for both the platform owner as well as complementors and customers arise as exemplified above. Broadly speaking, the questions are about how such a platform can be successful by leveraging its ecosystem.

The aim of this thesis is to analyze the ecosystem of such a data platform in the retail industry. Therefore, the first step of the thesis is to model the traditional ecosystem by identifying the relevant actors, cluster them into roles and set the into relation. In a second step, emerging roles (e. g. by startups) are added to the ecosystem. The e3-value method is a potentially suitable modelling technique. Third, by conducting expert interviews, workshops with industry experts and focus groups, this ecosystem is validated and more importantly extended towards roles, that are on the edge of the retail ecosystem. These could be mobility providers, cultural institutions or gastronomy. Finally, this extended ecosystem needs to be analyzed with regards to the role of a digital data platform entering this ecosystem. What are value co-creation potentials? What actors are affected both positively and negatively? What are the changes in the individual actors’ business models? The goal is to provide practical recommendations for both digital platforms supporting a sustainable business model of retailers, and retailers evolving towards (partially) digital business models.


  • Data collection through desk research, interviews, and workshops
  • Qualitative and quantitative data analysis
  • Result interpretation with regards to the theory of digital ecosystems, dynamic capabilities, or strategic agility.
  • Derivation of practical recommendations for business strategy, in particular for the introduction of a new digital platform into an incumbent ecosystem



  • Interest in current topics of digital innovation, digital transformation and business models
  • A high degree of autonomy and individual responsibility
  • Experience in and willingness to conduct scientific studies
  • Structured, reliable, and self-motivated work style


The thesis should be written in English. The context of the thesis can also be altered towards similar ecosystems, such as media or sports. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Please send your application including our application form, "Notenauszug" from TUMonline, and CV to Please note that we can only consider applications with complete documents.

Announcement date: 03.11.2020


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