Student Theses and Projects: Strategies for Offline-to-Online and Online-to-Offline Business Models in Retail

Thesis (MA) - Reference number 2020-235

Advisor: Timo Böttcher


Compared to stationary retail (brick-and-mortar businesses), e-commerce is becoming more and more essential. Often many small retailers can no longer keep up leading to the “death of shopping miles”. Still, this is not a battle lost. Digital technology can also be implemented in offline stores to provide a new, innovative experience to customers. For example, the use of augmented reality apps in grocery stores can guide customers who are looking for vegan or gluten-free or high protein foods. Or they can guide the lost husband to find the right ingredients for the family dinner.

The opportunity for offline stores lies in the customer experience. Zara cannot advise customers on which suit and shirt combination is right for an occasion and suits the individual person. They also cannot (yet) customize the trousers to the customer. Amazon cannot tell which makeup fits my skin tone. And HelloFresh cannot send me extra cheese for my pasta, if I want to. Such valuable customer information is available in the offline world – it just needs to be collected. It can be combined with existing, structured data and used for an superior customer experience. Using digital technology one can book an appointment at the preferred apparel store and show up perfectly dressed to the next job interview, one can get recommendations and new inspirations for dressing and styling – not just based on previous sales, and a grocery app can show me how to spice up my standard meal with regional ingredients, to bring diversity into my eating habits or meet my nutritional needs. Or a robot can take over the intra-store logistics, so employees have more time to consult customers.

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. Broadly speaking, the questions are about how such a platform can be successful by leveraging its ecosystem.

The aim of this thesis is to find, understand and elaborate on case studies (or other empirical data) of retailers changing their business model towards a multi-channel and/or digital-experience strategy. By analysing online businesses, such as Amazon, that enter the offline world, e. g. by opening stores or offline businesses, such as Rewe, that provide online/digital services such as grocery delivery or “order online pick up in store”, the thesis should derive practical recommendations for both digital platforms supporting a sustainable, digitally enhanced business model of retailers, and retailers evolving towards (partially) digital business models.

Potential research questions to elaborate on this topic include:

  • What are the business model changes of online retailers towards an multi-channel presence?
  • What are the business model changes of offline retailers towards an multi-channel presence?
  • What are configurations of successful multi-channel business models?
  • What are the value potentials of digital technology and data usage in offline retail stores?


  • Data collection through surveys, interviews, published case studies, and/or desk research with the focus on a specific ecosystem, such as retail or media, or specific contexts, such as digital platform ecosystems or entrepreneurial ecosystems
  • Qualitative or quantitative data analysis e. g. with fsQCA or grounded theory
  • Result interpretation with regards to the theory of ecosystem complexity, dynamic capabilities, or strategic agility. In particular how agent-focused theories (dynamic capabilities & strategic agility) can be enhanced by considering the ecosystem and its dynamics
  • 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. 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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