Internationalisierungsverhalten deutscher Onlinehändler : neue Internationalisierungsstrategien und Enträumlichung durch Digitalisierung

Schleiden, Vera; Neiberger, Cordula (Thesis advisor); Fromhold-Eisebith, Martina (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2022, 2023)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2022


Online retail is in a very excited phase markes by change. Influenced by new technologies (information, communication, transport) and strong internationalisation tendencies in trade, the theoretical, technical possibilities and framework conditions have changed significantly in recent years and opened up new opportunities for online retailers. This led to the discussion in trade geography research whether digital despatialization occurs: In the internationalization of classical traders it could ne shown that they first expand into geographically and psychologically close countries before entering more distant markets or that initially no or sporadic market entry strategies are chosen and only in the further internationalization process more intensive forms are chosen to work a country. Today, the internet can theoretically overcome all national borders, as Cairncross formulated in his hypothesis of the "death of distance" in 1997, or Friedman (2005) assumed the end of geography or distances. This all suggests that distances no longer play a role in the context of online internationalisation ant that here is accordingly a worldwide, borderless expansion or digital de-spatialization. Initial academic studies on online internationalisation, on the other hand, have come to the conclusion that distances and proximity continue to be important in online retailing and that no tendencies towards despatialization can be discerned. The aim of this paper is to investigate whether digital despatialization occurs in the context of online internationalization. For this purpose, the internationalization strategies of German online retailers will be analysed and recorded. In doing so, it will be further investigated whether new, target market, market entry and timing strategies are emerging in online retailing. In a further step, justifications for the strategic choices of online retailers will be sought. The assumptions of Johanson and Vahlne’s (1977, 2009) learning theory of internationalization are used as the basis of argumentation on which the research is based. It will be examined whether the phenomena of the psychic distance chain and the establishment chain can also be adapted to international online retailing. A mixed-method approach was chosen for the study, i. e. on the one hand a quantitative study in the form of a scientific observation of websites of 200 German online retailers was conducted and in the other hand a qualitative study in the form of explorative interviews with online retailers, foreign trade experts and IT experts was carried out. Overall, the majority of the online retailers surveyed are pursuing an online internationalisation strategy (approx. 85 %). With regard to the (new) internationalisation strategies of German online retailers, the following results can be summarised: Online retailers usually choose a diversified target market strategy and therefore expand into several countries. From a geographical point of view, expansion is concentrated on Germany’s immediate neighbours or on EU member states. With regard to market entry strategies, there are new or changed strategies. The focus is clearly on the export strategy, either passively via the German online shop or actively via country-specific online shops. In terms of timing strategies, the majority of online retailers have a combined strategy of gradual, single and simultaneous, parallel market entries. Based on the analysis of the internationalisation strategies of online retailers, it could be shown that, on the one hand, new internationalisation strategies play a role in online retailing, but that, on the other hand, similar patterns with regard to spatial expansion can be found as in traditional retailing - the focus continues to be on proximity to the home market. The search for justification for the internationalisation strategies shown and a lack of digital de-spatialisation in international online retailing was the focus of further investigation. The results of the research were able to show that online retailers have so far largely concentrated on expanding into countries with (very) low to moderate psychic distance. Thud, there is no worldwide expansion according to the theoretical technical requirements oft the Internet, but the focus is possibly according to the still early internationalisation phase of German online retailers on markets with a low or moderate psychic distance, which corresponds to the assumptions of the learning theory of internationalisation on the psychic distance chain. Accordingly, the target market selection behaviour of German online retailers can be explained and justified on the basis of the construct of psychic distance. On the other hand, the theoretical assumptions of the establishment chain cannot be applied to the company examples studied and accordingly cannot be used as a rationale for strategic market entry behaviour. In a further research step, it was also statistically examined which subindices of the previously identified psychological distance construct have an influence on internationalisation behaviour in online retailing. It was shown that the geographical, cultural and institutional proximity of a market to the home market has a positive influence in how often a country is chosen as a target market.


  • Division of Earth Sciences and Geography [530000]
  • Economic Geography of Services Teaching and Research Area [551720]