The Complexity of Owning the Customer Within Ecosystems : A study of owning the customer within ecosystems
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- Master Thesis 
This thesis explores the phenomenon of owning the customer within business ecosystems. Business ecosystems are complex entities where dissimilar organisations jointly deliver value to the customer by balancing cooperation and competition. While businesses need to collaborate to deliver value, they instinctively compete, creating friction between actors within an ecosystem. This situation may then raise the question of who has access to, and can gain, customer ownership. To date, limited research on owning the customer in an ecosystem setting has been conducted. The main aim of this thesis is therefore to understand what it means to own the customer in an ecosystem and discover how an ecosystem actor can obtain ownership. This paper is conducted as an exploratory multi-case study, analysing secondary data from 15 semi-structured interviews mainly from the retail industry. The empirical findings are assessed with existing literature on owning the customer and business ecosystems in general, to better understand customer ownership in an ecosystem setting. The findings of this study suggest that owning the customer can be defined as having direct and/or indirect ties with the customer in ways that optimise firms’ individual value capture within an ecosystem and maximise joint value creation potential for the customer. Ties in this setting relate to a firm communicating with customers and/or obtaining the needed customer data from the ecosystem’s customer journey. Moreover, the findings of this study also suggest that the roles actors adopt within ecosystems are decisive in the allocation of who gets to own the customer. The orchestrators of ecosystems seem more likely to obtain ownership as they have more power in the ecosystem structure. Nevertheless, the findings highlight that orchestrators’ desire for sole ownership increases friction between them and their complementors. This friction seems to complicate the ecosystem’s function of jointly creating more value as it hinders cooperation. Therefore, the findings argue that creating a sound relation between actors would be necessary to share ownership of the customer and thus ensure stronger value creation. Finally, as this thesis mainly aims to define owning the customer and to understand who owns the customer in an ecosystem, future research should be conducted on how power imbalance between actors might negatively influence the overall value proposition of an ecosystem.