Digital Platforms Transform the Global Economy

Digitalization has led to the emergence of platform business models that have disrupted many industries around the world and continue to transform the global economy. Today, many of the world’s most valuable companies – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Meta, Tencent, Alibaba – operate one or more digital platforms. These platforms are internet-based and provide an interface (e.g., website or app) that facilitates interactions between different groups of users. Digital platforms typically generate revenue by charging some of their user groups (e.g., sellers or advertisers) fees for accessing their platforms or conducting transactions on them. Due to their modular architecture and scalability, digital platforms can grow into large ecosystems incorporating diverse sets of actors who contribute different resources and capabilities to the process of value co-creation. In fact, the locus of value creation is not inside but outside the platform, which calls for new insights to understand the complex, multilateral interactions among platform providers and their users. The complexity of digital platforms and associated ecosystems, paired with their enormous economic footprint, has sparked much interest across different disciplines, such as management, information systems, international business, and marketing.

Digital Platforms

  • Social Media Platforms
    Social media platforms, such as Weibo, Facebook, and LinkedIn, which connect billions of users across the world and provide firms opportunities to interact with them.
  • Online Marketplaces
    Online marketplaces, such as Alibaba, Amazon, and Etsy, which bring buyers and sellers of products and services together.
  • Sharing Economy Platforms
    Sharing economy platforms, such as Uber, Didi, and Airbnb, which allow users to provide other users (“peers”) access to an underutilized asset, such as a room or a car.

The Relevance of Marketing

Marketing plays a key role in attracting users to a platform, increasing the number and quality of interactions that take place on it, reducing transaction costs for its users, and lowering a platform’s production costs. Accordingly, marketing scholars have shed light on various phenomena related to digital platforms, such as consumers’ adoption behavior, user- and firm-generated content, online brand communities, electronic word-of-mouth, product reviews, and customer trust. Overall, these efforts provide rich insights into the nature, mechanisms, and outcomes of online relationships, defined as relational exchanges that are mediated by digital platforms. However, few studies on digital platforms have adopted an international perspective.

Why International Research is Needed

Extant studies’ limitation to specific domestic markets is problematic. The huge economic potential of most digital platforms lies in the very fact that they are scalable beyond the borders of a single market. Many digital platforms are “born globals” in that they are designed to expand internationally shortly after their inception. For example, founded in 2009, Uber started expanding internationally after just two years and managed to enter almost 70 countries in only six years. Yet, contrary to common misconceptions, the digital economy is not entirely location-agnostic nor fully independent of national contexts. Indeed, entering foreign markets can pose substantial challenges to digital platforms. For example, Uber sunk over $2 billion before giving up on its ambitions to conquer the Chinese ride-sharing market. The company’s failure in China was attributed to its inability to navigate the market’s cultural, political, and economic complexities. This assumption is corroborated by recent conceptual work suggesting that the effectiveness of consumer engagement strategies likely depends on cultural, institutional, societal, and economic contingency factors. Such country-level contingencies may also explain why we observe fundamental cross-national differences in digital platforms’ architecture and user behaviors. For example, Alibaba’s Taobao Live hosts live-stream shopping events that combine e-commerce with social media features, such as a chat function and reaction buttons. Today, two-thirds of Chinese consumers have purchased products via live streams, while no comparable platform has yet emerged in the West. These observations underscore the need for adopting an international perspective in studying digital platforms and ecosystems.

Scope of the Special Issue

This special issue seeks to push the boundaries of international marketing research by publishing original work on digital platforms, such as social media platforms (e.g., social networks, content sharing & curation platforms, micro-blogs, discussion forums, consumer review sites), online marketplaces (e.g., B2B platforms, B2C platforms, C2C platforms), sharing economy platforms (e.g., lodging, ride-sharing, freelancing, crowd-funding), and hybrid platform types (e.g., social/live commerce platforms). We welcome any conceptual or empirical (qualitative or quantitative) work that sheds light on (1) the role of international marketing constructs (e.g., country-of-origin, psychic distance, ethnocentrism, cosmopolitanism) in the context of international interactions and exchanges on digital platforms, (2) cross-national differences (e.g., China vs. the U.S. vs. Europe) concerning relevant phenomena, such as consumer privacy and personal data protection (e.g., corporate digital responsibility), platform architecture and designs (e.g., platform governance and regulation), and market structures (e.g., digital maturity, competitive intensity, entrepreneurial ecosystems), or (3) culture-specific phenomena that have been neglected by the mainstream (Western-centric) marketing literature. Relevant research should have implications for international market selection and entry strategies, customer acquisition and retention (relationship marketing), customer engagement strategies, product development and launch strategies, pricing and promotion strategies, brand communication, crisis communication, service failure and recovery strategies, online community management, content seeding strategies, influencer marketing, or public policy.

Research Inspirations

Ready to Submit?

Please submit your manuscript through the IMR submission system ( and indicate its association with the SI "Digital Platforms" during the process. The submission window opens on June 1, 2023 and closes on September 1, 2023. All papers will be subjected to double-blind peer review.

Please check the section "Author guidelines" on the journal’s official website for further information about the expected format of prospective submissions.

  • Manuscript length: 7,000-9,000 words
  • Structured abstract (purpose, methodology, findings, originality)
  • Referencing: Harvard style

Virtual Event "IMxDigital"

The webinar took place on April 20, 9:00-10:30 AM EDT (New York) / 2:00-3:30 PM BST (London) / 9:00-10:30 PM CST (Beijing) and featured three presentations that touch on topics related to the special issue.

"Cross-Cultural Analysis on Dysfunctional Behavior on C2C Marketplaces" by Emi Moriuchi and Ikuo Takahashi

"Pricing Transparency in Online Marketplaces" by Kacy Kim, Yuhosua Ryoo, Srdan Zdravkovic, and Sukki Yoon

"Understanding Firms’ Internationalization through Chinese Digital Platforms" by Lala Hu, Diana Filipescu, and Albena Pergelova

In addition, the guest editors presented the special issue and its scope with the aim of enabling scholars to assess and enhance the fit of their work with the special issue.

Guest Editors