What is Rakuten?


E-commerce sellers based in North America tend to be familiar with the bigger platforms like Amazon and Etsy, but there are other resources and platforms to tap into. They may not be quite as famous in America, but e-commerce companies like Rakuten have a great deal to offer sellers at every level.


Rakuten is a Japanese e-commerce business that has spread its reach across the globe. It aims to make e-commerce more personalized, coming closer to an in-person retail experience and removing the alienation some people feel when they shop online. Rakuten’s expansion hasn’t come without its obstacles, but the company has handled them appropriately and continues to spread its influence around the world. If you’re not familiar with e-commerce giant Rakuten, read below to learn about their history and practices, and decide if you’d like to hop on board.


What is Rakuten?


The Beginnings (the 1990s and 2000s)

When it was first conceptualized and founded in 1997, Rakuten, Inc. was called MDM, Inc.; it didn’t change to Rakuten until 1999. Hiroshi Mikitani launched MDM, Inc., and Rakuten Shopping Mall, which was the first version of the online market, just a few months apart. From the beginning, the goal was always to give merchants more power at a lower cost.


The Rakuten culture grew rapidly throughout the late 1990s and the early 2000s. The corporation launched a travel and reservation service called Rakuten Travel, and they made a number of adjustments during these early years to give merchants the tools they needed. In the mid-2000s, Rakuten upped its involvement in the financial sector by issuing credit cards and operating an Internet bank. They also got involved in sports, creating Rakuten Baseball and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.


International Expansion (the 2010s)

Rakuten technically began expanding outside of Japan in 2005, but it was during the 2010s that they became more active on a global scale. In an effort to create a holistic and consistent brand image, Rakuten began “Englishnization” in 2012. This made English the official language of the company and helped integrate businesses from around the world into the Rakuten family.


Present Day and the Future (2018)

Rakuten expanded more and more throughout the 2010s, and they are still building new partnerships to this day. They also began to accept cryptocurrency like bitcoin for use in transactions, and they have plans to launch their own. They’ve continued to spread their influence to the world of sports, striking up a deal with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in 2017. Rakuten started as a small company in Japan with just a few employees, but it’s now one of the biggest businesses in the world. Their culture of expansion and globalization will continue to drive them forward and spread their influence across the globe.


Transforming E-Commerce

People often compare Rakuten to Amazon, but this comparison isn’t entirely accurate. Amazon allows sellers to list their products, but Rakuten aims to create a more immersive and holistic shopping experience. It would be more reasonable to compare Rakuten to a company like Etsy, which hosts “stores” for individual sellers and businesses.


The important distinction here is that Rakuten wants to let each business create its own store rather than just listing products using a generic template. Online shopping typically lacks the personal touch that people get from an in-person shopping experience at a brick and mortar building. Rakuten gives companies the tools they need to represent their brands the way they want to, and to design a comfortable and impactful experience for their customers.



"Rakuten wants to let each business create its own store  rather than just listing products using a template.  Online shopping typically lacks the personal touch  that people get from an in-person shopping experience."  -Click to Tweet-

Investments and Services

Once Rakuten began expanding outside of Japan, it picked up a considerable amount of momentum. To gain that momentum, Rakuten invested in a seemingly endless stream of businesses, many of which would take on the Rakuten name. From sponsoring various sports teams to acquiring established websites in a number of different countries, Rakuten has created relationships of all kinds. Thanks to these many partnerships, the business has been able to expand its services and offer the public more than ever before. Here are some of the many services that Rakuten now handles:

  • Banking

  • Media

  • Fashion

  • Travel

  • Online Shopping


Buy.com to Rakuten.com

One of the most important acquisitions that Rakuten made was Buy.com. The established e-commerce website cost $250 million, and the site came with more than 10 million existing users. What really makes this partnership important is that it was Rakuten’s first big push to get into the American market. The acquisition occurred in 2010, and the Japanese e-commerce mammoth has grown significantly in all areas of the world since then.


Problems Following Expansion

Rakuten has made impressive strides over a relatively short period of time, but the company didn’t get to where it is today without facing obstacles. There were two unfortunate incidents in particular, but Rakuten was able to fix their mistakes and protect their users.


The first event happened in 2013 when complaints started cropping up amongst users of SlickDeals.net. Allegedly, customers who used their credit cards on Rakuten.com had some of their sensitive information stolen as a result. This is a serious allegation because the information in question included credit card and social security numbers in addition to names and dates of birth. This information was also allegedly used to create new accounts with other vendors.


Victims were not happy with Rakuten’s initial response, as the company was quiet for the most part. However, they did state that they hired outside investigation professionals who determined that Rakuten is secure and that the company didn’t do anything wrong.


The second incident happened a year later in 2014 when the UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency noticed Rakuten facilitated online sales of unethical products. They specifically noted that the massive e-commerce business allowed whale meat and elephant ivory to be sold through their website. Fortunately, this issue was easier to resolve; Rakuten banned the sales of these items and did their part to stop helping the ivory trade.


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Selling with Rakuten

It pays to do a little bit of research before you start selling your products using Rakuten. Even if you were a regular user of Buy.com, you should get to know the Rakuten culture ahead of time. The good news is you can sell just about anything you want through Rakuten, and you’ll be exposed to different customers than you would if you used Amazon or Etsy. Rakuten is particularly happy to bring on established brands, as they tend to sell more easily.


You have to choose a reasonable price point for your products, and Rakuten insists that you don’t list the product for a lower price anywhere else. This ensures that people use this specific platform to buy your goods, so Rakuten makes money as well. Read up on the fees that Rakuten charges for selling products, and get to know your own niche so you can sell more successfully.


Even though the company has only been around since 1997, Rakuten has become one of the biggest e-commerce retailers in the world. Beginning its expansion in 2005, the 2010s saw them ramp up their efforts and spread across the globe. The business now covers a broad range of services and has become a viable and attractive option for e-commerce sellers.

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