Comparative Study of e-Commerce Ventures: Copycat Enablers
in Business Models
Christian Haertel, Matthias Pohl, Sascha Bosse, Robert H
ausler, Abdulrahman Nahhas,
Daniel Staegemann, Matthias Volk and Klaus Turowski
VLBA-Lab, Otto-von-Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany,,,
Copycats, e-Commerce, Rocket Internet, Entrepreneur, Business Model Canvas.
The copycat approach - replicating proven business models - presents an alternative to following the classic
entrepreneurial path in venture creation which is highly contested due to the common perception of being
non-innovative and of low-risk. However, existing literature contradicts this conception. This paper features a
case study of German e-commerce copycats and their American originals, showing that success of imitating
firms cannot be guaranteed despite the utilization of proven business models. From this, potential crucial
features influencing the destiny of these copycats are extracted. The outlined enablers are the served markets,
post-imitation learning and the usability of the platform. Furthermore, possible useful other tendencies that
could be examined in future research are provided.
Potential benefits of founding a business range from
“being one’s own boss” and the resulting self-
determination to facing new and unique challenges
to steadily reinvigorate motivation. Especially young
adults tend to pursue these advantages in contrast to
mere monetary compensation (ADP Research Insti-
tute, 2016). Obviously, becoming an entrepreneur
that runs a prosperous venture does not represent a
trivial task at all. According to Gompers et al., only
18% of first-time innovative entrepreneurs achieve
success in their undertaking which the authors define
as the business “going public” (Gompers et al., 2008).
In Germany, another approach of founding is pur-
sued by Rocket Internet. Baumann and K
ohler char-
acterize the organization as an “incubator and in-
vestment firm” or “startup factory” (Baumann et al.,
2018). Rocket Internet’s track record boasts more
than 100 companies launched since its establishment
in 2007. As opposed to the entrepreneurial method,
Rocket Internet does not rely on creating innovative
business ideas. In reality, this translates to copy-
ing auspicious business models (especially from e-
commerce) and applying them to a local, potentially
untapped market (Baumann et al., 2018). The result-
ing organizations are so-called “copycats” because
their construction based on an already existing busi-
ness concept. Accordingly, this idea of founding com-
panies is highly contentious and possesses a bad repu-
tation (Shenkar, 2010). However, according to Posen
and Martignoni, the plain imitation of market lead-
ers without any improvements or adaptations does
not resolve to success (Posen and Martignoni, 2018).
Therefore, the goal persists in “executing better on
the same idea”. This so-called “post-imitation learn-
ing” helps remaster known practices to close possible
knowledge gaps to achieve higher performance levels
(Posen and Martignoni, 2018).
Copycats are able to rely on lots of experiences
from their examples and thus, are more likely to be
successful initially in comparison to “classic” en-
trepreneurs (Toft-Kehler et al., 2014). Nevertheless,
not many copycats show that they sustain their pros-
perity in the long run (e.g. MyVideo, DaWanda or
studiVZ). Therefore, the following question occurs:
Which features of a copycat’s business model serve
as enablers for its success?
Using other words, the goal is to find aspects who are
potentially critical to the existence of these firms. In
order to achieve the completion of this task, the paper
utilizes a Case Study analysis in which the business
models of different German copycats from Rocket In-
ternet and their originals from the e-commerce sec-
Haertel, C., Pohl, M., Bosse, S., Häusler, R., Nahhas, A., Staegemann, D., Volk, M. and Turowski, K.
Comparative Study of e-Commerce Ventures: Copycat Enablers in Business Models.
DOI: 10.5220/0009348200800090
In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Finance, Economics, Management and IT Business (FEMIB 2020), pages 80-90
ISBN: 978-989-758-422-0
2020 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
tor are compared argumentatively. In this process, we
use the Business Model Canvas for providing a lucid
summary of the example’s business idea. The find-
ings within the case study will help to answer which
points of the business concepts can be regarded as
pivotal for the prosperity of these copycat examples.
The engagement in this field of research might pro-
vide useful insights for potential founders as well as
for associates of copycats or Rocket Internet. There-
fore, Section 2 presents necessary prerequisites for
the above-mentioned case study that is described in
the third section. The findings are accumulated in the
fourth section where the results of the case analysis
are discussed. The work concludes with limitations
of the study while providing an outlook on potential
future research that could be added or extend the find-
As briefly indicated in the introduction, the case study
involving copycats and their examples from the e-
commerce sector requires some foundations. There-
fore, this section contains the examination of the po-
sition of copycats in the business world resulting in
the analysis of Rocket Internet. Finally, this section
closes with the presentation of the Business Model
Canvas which serves as a template for summarizing
business models of the companies in the regarded
cases of the third section.
2.1 The Role of Copycat Organizations
in Today’s Business World
Next to the generic copycat definition (including e.g.
copycat crime) (wiktionary, 2019)
, one can clarify
such entity from an economic context as an orga-
nization which copies another one’s business model
from another market (Gr
underszene Lexikon, 2019)
Many well-known representatives of this concept can
be found in Germany with mainly American ex-
amples: studiVZ (Facebook), Zalando (Zappos) or
MyVideo (YouTube) fit this category. But not only
business models pose the subject of potential trans-
fers. For instance, imitators are keen to adapt vi-
sual aspects of the original to their own brand (e.g.
products or logo). According to Loken and Ward,
these similarities possibly facilitate the acceptance as
URL: (last check:
June 9, 2019).
/copycat?interstitial (last check: June 9, 2019).
feasible alternatives for new market players (Loken
and Ward, 1990). Generally speaking, Collins-Dodd
and Zaichkowsky state that copycats may present a
threat to established firms because of their ability to
offer cheaper prices leading to potential loss of mar-
ket shares (Collins-Dodd and Lynne Zaichkowsky,
1999). Therefore, copycats pose a quite significant
challenge to these companies.
However, the paper focuses on the cloning of
business models. This methodology’s aim persists
in minimizing the required investment for brand and
market development (Miceli and Pieters, 2010) lead-
ing to the reduction of inconvenient R&D expenses
due to an experienced and field-tested basis (Shenkar,
2010). Theoretically, copycats seek to operate faster
with a lower risk than classic teams of entrepreneurs
(Baumann et al., 2018). Due to this and allegedly
presenting a low effort strategy, criticism obviously
arises (Posen and Martignoni, 2018). Critiques range
from “having nothing original to offer” over “non-
innovative” to “theft of ideas”. Even the connota-
tion of the term copycat is adverse. On first glance,
this bad reputation seems justified to a certain degree.
From an intuitive point of view, imitated firms have
every right to be frustrated when their costly elab-
orated business model is cloned. In the opinion of
Friestad and Wright, customers are even opposed to
“blatant” cloning (Friestad and Wright, 1993).
Another point of critique persists in the commonly
assumed fact that the copycat approach represents
a low-risk strategy (Posen and Martignoni, 2018).
However, this negative perception is contradicted by
Posen and Martignoni. They theorized imitation as
being more adventurous than widely regarded under-
lined by “bifurcated performance outcomes” of copy-
cats (Posen and Martignoni, 2018). The authors rea-
son this with the limited observability of the exam-
ple’s practices as a protection which means that the
copycat has to recreate the remaining ones through
so-called “post-imitation learning” (Nelson and Win-
ter, 1982). Here exists the possibility that example
and copy diverge from one another in terms of per-
formance followed by the risk for imitators. Their
choice of emphasis on certain practices for post-
imitation learning in the business model determines
whether the venture becomes a success (Posen and
Martignoni, 2018). Accordingly, Noailles-Sim
eon re-
gards copycats as entrepreneurs because one-to-one
copies are both not feasible and reasonable (Noailles-
eon, 2017). This means that imitation also pos-
sesses a “generative effect” referring to the refinement
of certain copied business model’s aspects in order
to differentiate or improve in contrast to the original
firm (“filling remaining knowledge gaps”) (Posen and
Comparative Study of e-Commerce Ventures: Copycat Enablers in Business Models
Martignoni, 2018). This clearly shows the potential of
copycats for innovation when trying to adapt on pos-
sibly lackluster facets of original practices.
Ultimately, copycats present a phenomenon in the
business world which is contentious. Nonetheless, as
imitation is a popular mechanism of organizational
learning, it is unlikely to disappear and therefore must
be taken into account (Posen and Martignoni, 2018).
Although copycats may not be as riskless and as easy
to build successful as initially thought, it is fair to
assume that classic entrepreneurship involves more
danger of failure. The same logic applies for inno-
vation aspects. A potential benefit of copycats per-
sists in the development of new and untapped mar-
kets which the original firm disregarded so that the
product or service becomes accessible to more con-
sumers (Baumann et al., 2018). As previously men-
tioned, not every copycat organization is able to grow
and sustain success. This goes against the perception
of experienced entrepreneurs creating more prosper-
ous ventures because of learning effects (Toft-Kehler
et al., 2014). Toft-Kehler et al. argue that merely hav-
ing experience does not necessarily “trigger increased
performance” when “incorrect inferences are drawn
(Levitt and March, 1988). On the contrary, founders
who draw the right conclusions are labeled “expert-
entrepreneurs” (Toft-Kehler et al., 2014). This relates
to the requirement of having these in leadership of
copycats. Consequently, Rocket Internet values itself
as experts engaging with effectively creating and run-
ning copycats (Baumann et al., 2018).
2.2 Rocket Internet - A Startup Factory
The purpose of this section persists in exploring how
a copycat firm is created in Rocket Internet’s realm.
For further details regarding the company, the paper
“Rocket Internet: Organizing a Startup Factory” by
Baumann et al. discusses this topic comprehensively.
The initial step represents the careful selection of aus-
picious business concepts (Baumann et al., 2018). Af-
terwards, Rocket Internet assigns a team to the project
mostly consisting of “ambitious business school grad-
uates” in contrast to freedom-loving entrepreneurs.
Funding presents the third pillar for a new venture.
Furthermore, offices and associated infrastructure as
well as customized IT assets are provided to enable
the business to start their operations in a quick fash-
ion. These features already suggest a strong parental
control of Rocket Internet on their startups (Baumann
et al., 2018). Obviously, the incubator firm expects
results in return for their investments which the asso-
ciates communicate aggressively.
Not every business idea is of interest for Rocket.
The copycat factory focuses on internet business mod-
els because offline ventures require more effort to
be put in information research. Basically, these e-
commerce examples represent easier to clone enti-
ties since the degree of observable activities is re-
duced in comparison (Baumann et al., 2018). Ac-
cordingly, high-tech business models are inapplica-
ble as well. Moreover, Rocket Internet seems to be
opposed to copy enormous ventures such as Ama-
zon. This is reasoned by the huge brand value which
adds to the quality of products or services which a
copycat could never replicate successfully (Baumann
et al., 2018). However, the last section outlined the
ineptitude of exact imitations (Posen and Martignoni,
2018). Following this principle, Rocket Internet seeks
“specialization on execution” facilitated by its cen-
tralized functions (Baumann et al., 2018).
Rocket Internet follows a low-risk approach in
venture establishment. Consequently, the company
aims to reduce technology risk, market risk and team
risk (Baumann et al., 2018). According to Preston,
the technology risk almost equals zero as the origi-
nal firm already proved its functionality. Rocket In-
ternet tries to decrease market problems by avoiding
competition with the examples on the same market.
Therefore, the goal persists in scaling the new ven-
ture into market leading companies rather in Europe
than where most imitated business models originate
from (Baumann et al., 2018). Thirdly, Rocket Inter-
net minimizes team risk by their mentioned team as-
sembling approach. However, adequately to the find-
ings of the previous subsection, pursuing the copycat
path for business creation does not guarantee success
shown by Rocket Internet’s losses in 2015 and 2016
(Baumann et al., 2018). Moreover, it should be noted
that the incubator firm did not produce any world-
famous brands.
2.3 Business Model Canvas
The Business Model Canvas (BMC) was first intro-
duced by Osterwalder and Vigneur serving as a “one-
page strategy or business model” (Osterwalder and
Pigneur, 2013). Its purpose persists in both the com-
munication and implementation of a company’s busi-
ness model (Frick and Ali, 2013). Figure 1 depicts
a template for the canvas showing its composition of
nine different sections that try to describe a venture’s
business concept. When answering shown questions,
one is able to provide a comprehensive overview.
However, fitting the often complex structure of an
enterprise’s concept into the BMC does not always
present a trivial assignment (Frick and Ali, 2013).
Joyce and Paquin extended the document to three
FEMIB 2020 - 2nd International Conference on Finance, Economics, Management and IT Business
Key Partners
Who are the key
Which are our key
Key Activities
What key activities do
the value propositions,
distribution channels,
customer relationships
and revenue streams
Key Resources
What key resources do
the value propositions,
distribution channels,
customer relationships
and revenue streams
Value Propositions
What value is
delivered to the
Which one of the
customer’s problem is
helped to be solved?
Which customer needs
are satisfied?
Customer Relations.
What type of
relationship does each
of the customer
segments expect to be
established and
maintained with them?
Which ones are
Through which
channels do the
customer segments
want to be reached?
How are they reached
Customer Segments
For whom is value
Who are the most
important customers?
Cost Structure
What are the most
important costs
inherent in the
business model?
Which key resources
and key activities are
most expensive?
Revenue Streams
For what value are the
customers willing to
For what do they pay?
How are they currently
Figure 1: Business Model Canvas Template (Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2013).
layers by adding both an environmental and a social
tier to the already existing economic view (Joyce and
Paquin, 2016). While the environmental layer ap-
pends the life cycle perspective, the social template
focuses on stakeholders. In the scope of this paper,
this version of the template is sufficient for present-
ing the examined business models. With the help of
the BMC, the concept of the evaluated companies can
be neatly introduced and the comparison with the re-
spective copycat is made more understandable to the
For extracting potential enablers of copycats in busi-
ness models, this section argumentatively contrasts
three American e-commerce ventures with their re-
spective German imitator. Accordingly, based on
available information about the firms and associated
papers, the six corresponding business models were
derived. Due to page limitation and similarity of the
copycat in various aspects, only the BMCs represent-
ing the original enterprises are illustrated for better
overview. The comparison focuses on key differences
and important aspects for the discussion in Section
4. The observed cases are the online fashion retail-
ers Zappos and Zalando, the internet shops for hand-
crafted products Etsy and DaWanda and lastly the on-
line retailers for furniture Wayfair and home24.
3.1 Zappos and Zalando
The online fashion company Zappos
was founded
back in 1999 to compensate the lack of large on-
line retailers for shoes (Summary-Smith, 2017). In
2001, one of the initial investors, Tony Hsieh, who
significantly defined Zappos’ business concept, took
over the CEO position (Kopelman et al., 2012). Un-
til 2008, following a troublesome start, the firm cata-
pulted its revenue from $1.6 million to more than $1
billion, leading to the acquisition through Amazon in
early 2009 (Kopelman et al., 2012).
In Germany, the copycat of Zappos was founded
in 2008 through investor capital of Rocket Internet
(Wassink, 2012)
. Nowadays, the ven-
ture currently views itself as “Europe’s leading online
Website Zappos: (last check:
July 2, 2019).
Website Zalando: (last check:
July 2, 2019).
31137/Zalando-mischt-den-Internethandel-auf.html (last
check: June 13, 2019).
Comparative Study of e-Commerce Ventures: Copycat Enablers in Business Models
Key Partners
Amazon (Warrick et al.,
fashion brands
Key Activities
huge investments in HR
(4-week orientation
program) (Warrick et al.,
careful selection of
customer service
Key Resources
ambitious and motivated
employees through
organizational culture
(Holacracy) (Warrick et al.,
2016) + highly qualified
service personnel
Amazon’s logistics network
Value Propositions
individualized customer
service (Summary-Smith,
wide selection of
fast, accurate product
deliver WOW (Warrick
et al., 2016)
emotional impact
Customer Relations
open, frequent and
honest relationship
(Warrick et al., 2016)
encouragement to
provide feedback
ensure customer loyalty
communication (email,
website, video, blogs,
tweets, Facebook,
YouTube) (Warrick
et al., 2016)
large call-center
Customer Segments
fashion-interested mass
markets: North America
Cost Structure
customer service esp. call
center, HR (training,
complete welfare) (Warrick
et al., 2016)
fees for merchants,
warehouses and inventory,
delivery & return freights,
advertising (low)
IT infrastructure
Revenue Streams
Zappos Insights
Figure 2: Zappos’ Business Model.
fashion platform” (Zalando, 2019a)
. Zalando origi-
nally gained attention due to its television advertising
(Horizont, 2012)
. Following both immense increase
of revenue and notable losses in the first of years of
activity, the online fashion company achieved 5.4 bil-
lion e of revenue and 173 million e of profit in 2018
(Zalando, 2019b)
For comparing both fashion retailers, Figure 2 dis-
plays Zappos’ Business Model Canvas. In terms of
proposed value, Zappos represents an interesting en-
tity. A large retailer for clothing must be able to of-
fer a wide selection of products bundled with a fast
and accurate delivery. Zalando poses no exception to
this (Zalando, 2019a). But Zappos unique attitude al-
most makes this aspect fade into the background. The
Southern Nevada-based venture promises an emo-
tional impact associated with the online purchase
business-fields (last check: June 13, 2019).
(last check: June 13, 2019).
-ab-undsetzt-weiter-auf (last check: June 13, 2019).
of clothing items on their platform (Warrick et al.,
2016). In order to enable this, Zappos offers an ex-
ceptional and personal customer service (Summary-
Smith, 2017). Relatively similar, Zalando aims to
provide a unique shopping experience, offering the
feature of free delivery and return within 100 days
(Zalando, 2019a).
How does Zappos enable its value propositions?
The fashion retailer applies the Holacracy concept
which spreads the power within the whole company
(Summary-Smith, 2017). This approach intends to
improve performance of employees through higher
motivation because of the staffs ability to contribute
to decisions (Warrick et al., 2016). Accordingly, Zap-
pos places importance on a careful screening of appli-
cants with the execution of a four weeks long orien-
tation for new colleagues. On that note, various pa-
pers engaged with examining Zappos’ working cul-
ture. In contrast, Zalando has faced negative press in
this area (Wikipedia, 2019)
. Besides online chan-
nels, Zalando also established several outlets in addi-
tion to their web presence. While Zappos primarily
URL: (last check:
June 15, 2019).
FEMIB 2020 - 2nd International Conference on Finance, Economics, Management and IT Business
focuses on its domestic market in North America, Za-
lando currently serves 17 countries all over Europe
(Hannoversche Allgemeine, 2018)
. When pursuing
an approach like Zappos, including the call center and
complex HR training programs paired with welfare
benefits, huge expenses are necessitated to enable the
demanded infrastructure. In terms of marketing, Za-
lando definitely caused immense costs, seeing their
expensive TV appearance. Consequently, the fashion
retailer reduced their TV presence drastically in 2012
(Horizont, 2012).
Ultimately, the analysis shows different ap-
proaches and market focus. Since Zappos’ acquisition
through Amazon, official information on the financial
situation of Hsieh’s firm remain private. As Amazon
itself pursues their own fashion branch, this hints that
the importance of Zappos for Jeff Bezos’ giant is not
valued in dizzying heights (Graf, 2017b)
. On the
other side, Zalando finally turned profitable following
a rough start and most probably overtook Zappos in
terms of revenue (Zalando, 2019b). The copycat is
expected to continue its growth as the largest online
fashion retailer in Europe.
3.2 Etsy and DaWanda
Since its establishment in 2005, Etsy
(Etsy, 2019)
offers an online marketplace for unique and creative
goods where sellers can present their products to po-
tential buyers while paying Etsy both a listing fee and
a percentage of the sale price in a completed trans-
action (Etsy, 2019). The steady-growing handcraft-
loving community (40 million members) and the ad-
dition of new markets helped the American firm ac-
cumulating an annual revenue of approximately $600
million in 2018 (statista, 2019)
. Using Etsy as an
example, DaWanda was founded in 2006 (Kl
and Alves, 2018)
. Supported financially by Rocket
Internet, this copycat became the leading platform for
DIY products in the DACH
region at its peak. Dur-
(last check: June 13, 2019).
-eigentlich-auszappos/ (last check: June 15, 2019).
Website Etsy: (last check: June
11, 2019).
151149/umfrage/onlineumsatz-von-etsy-inc/ (last check:
June 13, 2019).
leader (last check: May 31, 2019).
The region representing Germany, Austria and Switzer-
ing these days, the business achieved around 380,000
sellers with six million offered products, representing
140 million euros in sale value (Kl
asgen and Alves,
2018). However, since the business failed to generate
profit while also experiencing a stagnation in revenue,
the dismissal of one fourth of its 230 employees oc-
curred in 2017 (Graf, 2017a)
. Failing to reach the
desired effect, DaWanda decided to terminate its op-
erations at the end of August 2018, much to the shock
of its community (Marquart, 2018)
The fact that DaWanda suggested its commu-
nity to migrate to Etsy implies both business mod-
els equaling each other to a high degree. Figure 3
displays Etsy’s concept in the Business Model Can-
vas template. Regarding key activities, Etsy neces-
sitates the development of its platform and market-
ing operations (Kubacki et al., 2015). The platform
stands for more than just a marketplace, it is rather in-
tended to serve as a forum where people with the same
hobby connect to support each other (Kubacki et al.,
2015). Although information about DaWanda seem
to be limited in this area, it is fair to assume that the
company pursues akin activities. However, sources
report bad user experiences with the platform (Graf,
2017a) due to lacking technical standards (Kl
and Alves, 2018). Referring to value propositions,
Etsy provides help for entrepreneurs through educa-
tion of its sellers via social media channels. As the
sellers support each other by exchanging experiences
on the platform, the goal is to gain more humanity and
sustainability in business (Kubacki et al., 2015). De-
spite using other wording for its value propositions,
DaWanda primarily offered similar aspects to its cus-
tomers (Helming, 2013)
First clear conflicts between the DIY platforms
appear in the supplied customer segments (Krugh,
2014). While Etsy mainly operated in North Amer-
ica, DaWanda focused on Germany and Europe. This
changed in 2010 when Etsy decided to expand onto
Europe (Marquart, 2018). From this point on, Etsy
and DaWanda stood in direct competition. Lastly, the
question remains how the DIY marketplaces gener-
ate income. In Etsy’s case, sellers must pay $0.20 for
each listing and 3.5% of the item’s prize when com-
pleting a transaction (Etsy, 2019). Furthermore, Etsy
and DaWanda gain additional turnover through seller
etsy-dawanda-analyse/ (last check: May 31, 2019).
kunden-uebernehmen-a-1215822.html (last check:
May 31, 2019).
-noah13-london-28919455 (last check: May 31, 2019).
Comparative Study of e-Commerce Ventures: Copycat Enablers in Business Models
Key Partners
sellers (Etsy, 2019)
production partners
third-party (developers
and payment
Key Activities
marketing (Kubacki
et al., 2015)
platform development
seller services
customer support
Key Resources
700+ employees
(Marquart, 2018)
global community
(items, buyers and
Value Propositions
creative, global
commerce platform
(Etsy, 2019)
unique products
entrepreneurs (Kubacki
et al., 2015)
more humanity in
Customer Relations
create platform where
consumers establish
relationships (Etsy,
educational network
effects (Kubacki et al.,
mainly through social
media to establish B2B
within large selling
community and help
each other (Etsy, 2019)
Customer Segments
largely young and
female (88%) (Krugh,
markets: North
America, Europe
(Marquart, 2018)
Cost Structure
employees (customer
marketing expenses (seller
education) (Kubacki et al.,
overhead (e.g. shipping,
importing, exporting)
development + platform
Revenue Streams
$0.20 listing fee
3.5% fee for completed
sales (Etsy, 2019)
seller services
Figure 3: Etsy’s Business Model.
services where a shop can pay extra for special pro-
motion of items and payment processing. Originally,
DaWanda’s commission for sales amounted to 9.5%
(formerly 5%) on top of the varying listing fee (0.10-
0.30 euro) (Melchior, 2016)
. With Etsy as a strong
competitor, the German copycat could not survive on
long-term (Marquart, 2018). Etsy’s benefits were the
English language, its solidified base market position
in North America and lower fees than DaWanda of-
fered (Kl
asgen and Alves, 2018). With already stag-
nating growth and the need to release employees to
reduce costs, DaWanda was “destined to die a slow
death”. Due to the acquisition of many of DaWanda’s
customers, Etsy is sure to increase its momentary rev-
enue of $600 million in the future.
3.3 Wayfair and Home24
The next case to be examined involves online retail-
prozent-1179345.html (last check: June 14, 2019).
ers for furniture. The American example, Wayfair
was founded in 2002 in Boston and turned into “one
mega destination for the home” after merging the
standalone platforms in 2012 (Wayfair, 2019)
gle platform strategy (Graf, 2018)
). Hereinafter, the
retailer rapidly grew in regards of engaged markets,
products, customers, suppliers and revenue. Accord-
ing to its website, the online furniture giant achieved
$7.3 billion in net revenue in the twelve months
prior to March 31, 2019 ($2 billion growth compared
to 2017) (Graf, 2018). Additionally, the company
boasts enormous figures in terms of products on offer
(14 million), employees (13,300) and suppliers (over
10,000) (Wayfair, 2019).
The story of the German Copycat Home24
Website Wayfair: (last check:
July 2, 2019).
URL: (last
check: June 13, 2019).
vorbild-fuer-home24/ (last check: June 4, 2019).
Website home24:
homevierundzwanzig/English/0/home-24.html (last
check: June 5, 2019).
FEMIB 2020 - 2nd International Conference on Finance, Economics, Management and IT Business
Key Partners
manufacturer (Cronin,
suppliers (Graf, 2018)
own brands
UPS, Fed-Ex, DHL
(Graf, 2015)
Key Activities
customer service (Graf,
development of
platform (Graf, 2018)
data-driven decision
making (Cronin, 2014)
brand aquisition
Key Resources
brands (Graf, 2018)
technology + platform
millions of products,
thousands of suppliers
employees (data scientists)
(Cronin, 2014)
Value Propositions
vast selection of
products with no own
inventory (Cronin,
for suppliers: offer
for customers: finding
the right piece for
home online
Customer Relations
pure-play online
(Cronin, 2014)
achieving existing
clients (Graf, 2018)
social media
TV advertising (Graf,
Customer Segments
online furniture-affine
advertisers (Graf, 2018)
markets: North
America, Europe,
Australia (Wayfair,
Cost Structure
fees for merchants
marketing (Graf, 2015)
platform & technology
(Graf, 2018)
customer service
Revenue Streams
product sales (Cronin,
Wayfair Media
Solutions (advertising)
(Graf, 2018)
Figure 4: Wayfair’s Business Model.
menced relatively similar as Wayfair’s establishment
(home24, 2019). After combining the niche stores
in 2012, the home24 brand was created. Just as the
other examined imitators, home24 relied on capital
of Rocket Internet for enabling its operations (Graf,
. Following its growth and market expansions
onto eight countries, home24 states being the “lead-
ing pure-play home & living e-commerce platform in
continental Europe and Brazil” (home24, 2019). Of-
fering both third-party furniture and own brand prod-
ucts, the company possesses more than 100,000 prod-
ucts in its online store which are provided by approx-
imately 500 suppliers (home24, 2019). In financial
terms, home24 was able to strengthen its revenue to
313 million euro in 2018 (Schnor, 2019)
Figure 4 depicts the Business Model Canvas of
Wayfair. Both apply the so-called “dropshipping”
which means that the products presented on the plat-
form are directly delivered from the manufacturer to
the customer while minimizing own inventory risks
(Graf, 2018). For customers, the retailers grant the
(last check: June 4, 2019).
verpasstumsatzziel-2018 (last check: June 13, 2019).
possibility to find the right item for their homes in
an “amazing experience” excluding the bothersome
traits from a visit to the furniture store (home24,
2019). In contrast to Wayfair, home24 states a timely
and convenient delivery within their value proposi-
tions (Graf, 2015). Wayfair’s key activities include
customer service (Graf, 2015) and the development
of the platform (Graf, 2018). The firms pursue data-
driven decision making based on the collection of
information from every purchase and every vendor
(home24, 2019)(Cronin, 2014).
In terms of key resources, in connection with tech-
nology and the platform, beneficial decision-making
improving “performance and growth” can be made
through the assembled information (Cronin, 2014).
For achieving long-term customer relationships, both
firms suffer enormous expenses: home24’s spending
here is numbered at 46 million euro which is huge in
context to the obtained revenue (Deutsch, 2019)
. In
terms of customer segments, the Boston-based com-
pany tapped on the European and Australian market in
addition to its North American home territory, mean-
ing the direct competition with home24 which is ac-
(last check: June 15, 2019).
Comparative Study of e-Commerce Ventures: Copycat Enablers in Business Models
tive in both Europe and South America (Brazil).
The bulk of the furniture market remains primar-
ily static at the moment (Graf, 2015). This implies the
potential of vast growth for online retailers. However,
the issue persists in the high degree of competition.
Especially IKEA and Amazon pose a threat because
of their already well-established logistics network and
existing infrastructure which can guarantee proper de-
livery times and acceptable prizes (Graf, 2015). Ac-
cordingly, Wayfair and home24 need to find a balance
between lowering costs and also acquiring additional
customers while improving delivery times. Consider-
ing Wayfair’s already enormous size and growth, the
American company appears to occupy a workable po-
sition. On the other side, home24 struggles: Despite
increasing revenue, the share price collapsed by 78%
after failing the accomplishment of its growth fore-
cast (Deutsch, 2019). Additionally, a failed expansion
into the Asian market presents further negative news
around home24 (Regina, 2012)
With the case study being completed, the first aspect
to discuss is related to customer segments. While the
examined pairs did not present any glaring differences
between served consumer bases, the view should be
extended on the markets the firms operate on. Log-
ically, all Etsy, Zappos and Wayfair pursue their do-
mestic North American market. On the other hand,
the German copycats are solely present on the Euro-
pean market apart from home24’s further expansion
to Brazil. Rocket Internet specifically intended for
their firms to avoid any direct competition with the
original organizations and rather serve untapped mar-
kets (Baumann et al., 2018). Seeing size and benefits
of a far more developed infrastructure of the imitated
companies, the copycats would be in a much weaker
position comparatively. Self-evidently, Rocket Inter-
net cannot ensure that their examples will not ex-
pand onto the European market which happened in
the cases of Etsy and Wayfair. In both instances, their
respective rivals, DaWanda and home24, find them-
selves in a quite poor state. On the contrary, Zappos
remained on “home soil” while Zalando continued
to grow in Europe, overtaking its example in terms
of revenue (Zalando, 2019b). The reasoning behind
Zappos neglecting the European market might persist
in their relationship with Amazon but a definite an-
swer cannot be drawn from the available information.
However, these observations imply that the copycats
down-home24 (last check: June 15, 2019).
are dependent on their competitors to stay away from
direct confrontation by avoiding expansion on “their”
European market.
The study of the business models revealed that the
copycats do not differ in many aspects from their orig-
inals. Intuitively, this does not present any ground-
breaking discovery since the intention of the dis-
cussed founding approach literally persists in repli-
cating proven venture concepts. Nevertheless, Posen
and Martignoni state that exact copies are not feasible
and adaptations should be performed through “post-
imitation learning” (Posen and Martignoni, 2018).
Following this, the copycats require at least some in-
novative aspects to contend, specifically when being
in direct competition with the imitated examples. The
predominant similarity of compared business models
showed that the examined copycats lack such unique-
ness which could prove an advantage in contrast to the
superior American firms. On that note and consid-
ering the differences in organizational culture (“Ho-
lacracy”), it would have been intriguing to monitor
what would have happen to Zalando if Zappos had
decided to expand on the European market.
Continuing with innovation aspects, another en-
abler in e-commerce copycat business models is the
platform. Apart from technological aspects, e.g.
for enabling more effective decision-making which
Rocket Internet weighs highly, the usability of the
websites where products and services are offered rep-
resents a crucial factor for the customer’s experience
and thus, the success of the venture (Kurosu et al.,
2009). In regards of this paper, DaWanda struggled
with keeping up with technical standards and provid-
ing a proper usability of its platform (Kl
asgen and
Alves, 2018). These shortcomings proved to be a se-
vere detriment in competition with Etsy. Moreover,
there are factors which were just briefly regarded in
this paper due to either lack of insights or time re-
strictions. Nonetheless, these facets could still present
potential enablers for copycat success. For instance,
further studies could explore the influence of orga-
nizational culture. While the considered American
firms mainly pursued an informal approach to im-
prove employee performance and motivation, Rocket
Internet rather applied strong influence to their sub-
sidiary companies. Accordingly, it would be interest-
ing to comprehend the consequences on the staff in
terms of devotion and efficiency in the copycat ven-
A part of DaWanda’s downfall also persisted in
significantly higher fees for sellers in comparison to
Etsy. If information for other copycat cases could
be acquired in this area, additional investigations for
gaining further findings are certainly possible. This
FEMIB 2020 - 2nd International Conference on Finance, Economics, Management and IT Business
aspect also relates to startup culture. While the USA
provides the most entrepreneur-friendly environment,
Germany lags behind (Nilsen, 2013)
. The case
study showed the pressure of becoming profitable for
the German copycats which seems to be a reason for
the risk adversity of Germans when it comes to found-
ing (Geibel and Manickam, 2015). On that note, addi-
tional discussion is required to potentially narrow the
gap to the USA in this regard. Finally, it was outlined
that the online furniture retailers Wayfair and home24
see themselves as well as offline giants such as IKEA
that are increasingly expanding their channels to the
e-commerce, as strong rivals (Graf, 2018). With that
in mind, the danger of these long-established players
for e-commerce copycats can be explored, too.
Section 4 outlined potential enablers of copycat suc-
cess based on the findings within the case study
of three pairs of e-commerce companies. It states
the competition on served markets, innovation (post-
imitation learning) and the usability of the respective
platform as important features. However, there are
some limitations to this paper that require reference.
First of all, the examination merely featured three
pairs of organizations due to time and page restric-
tions. Therefore, the discussed findings in the previ-
ous section cannot be held as valid facts. Nonetheless,
the results should be rated as useful tendencies for fur-
ther investigation in the course of other and a higher
amount of cases.
Considering the used examples here, both quantity
and quality of information potentially pose an object
of contestability to gained insights. While there are
dedicated scientific papers discussing the American
originals, the German copycats lack such academic
engagements. Accordingly, the necessary informa-
tion had to be collected from associated websites,
blogs or news. With the inclusion of such literature,
the danger of obtaining untrustworthy or conflicting
statements rises. In order to minimize this risk, em-
phasis was put on featuring various sources with sim-
ilar assertions about a topic. Despite that, slight errors
or inaccuracies possibly influencing the validity of re-
sults cannot be completely preempted due to the lack
of reliable scientific literature. Thus, further research
should be pursued in the discussed field.
be-an-entrepreneur-2013-8?IR=T#!IJHsb (last check:
August 21, 2019).
Additionally, the previous section already men-
tioned further potential enablers that could be exam-
ined in future works. As Rocket Internet mainly fo-
cuses on replicating relatively simple business models
(Baumann et al., 2018), the question arises whether
certain extracted copycat enablers would still be vi-
able and if new ones would occur in more complexly
structured ventures. Another restriction of this paper
persists in its focus on e-commerce enterprises. Con-
sequently, it would be interesting to explore different
types of such organizations. Alternatively, the influ-
ence of the type of e-commerce firm (B2C, B2B and
C2C) on the success in direct competition scenarios
might be worth examining.
Furthermore, the case study utilizes the one-
layered BMC for presenting the firms which might be
too close-minded to cover all aspect of an organiza-
tion’s value generation. Joyce and Paquin already ex-
panded the template to three layers (Joyce and Paquin,
2016). With this contribution, the authors helped cre-
ating a more holistic and integrated grasp of how an
organization adds “multiple types of value” (Joyce
and Paquin, 2016). Therefore, it would be intrigu-
ing to see if additional findings could be made visible
when also including the other tiers. Another limita-
tion presents the focus on German copycats of Rocket
Internet. On this note, examining different companies
of this sort outside of Germany and this startup fac-
tory could enrich the results. In their paper, Baumann
et al. already hinted at the existence of other incuba-
tor firms (Baumann et al., 2018). Ultimately, the goal
of this work persisted in exploring business models of
copycats and their originals to gain findings for en-
ablers of the imitators’ success within a case study,
possibly posing an object of interest to entrepreneurs
or concerned parties of copycats. Due to the explained
limitations, the extracted enablers should not be val-
ued as generally valid facts. However, the work can
still be regarded as successful with the discovery of
the three potential key features to provoke further dis-
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