As e-commerce has increasingly gained traction in the retail market, many traditional “brick-and-mortar” retailers are innovating their business models and making the transition towards digital business models. While scholars have started to examine the influence of digitalization on various business model elements, they have so far paid little attention to its implications on the external relationships in which firms engage for value creation. Building on a qualitative analysis of seventeen interviews, this study develops a two-stage framework for the transition to digital business models. In Stage 1, retailers collaborate with specialized service providers to implement a digital business model. As firms from the retail ecosystem collaborate with firms from the digital-service ecosystem to create a value proposition for end-customers, a meta-ecosystem emerges. In Stage 2, firms (retailers) seek to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the meta-ecosystem. Physical interactions with the digital service providers, the product suppliers, and the customers are a primary means towards this end. Thus, digitalization does not make physical interactions and close personal ties obsolete. Our study has substantial implications for the academic literature and management practice.