Japanese Internet services business and e-commerce company, Rakuten, has reached a milestone in its global expansion, and now offers services in over 25 countries and territories. The launch of Rakuten Austria in May 2013 also marked the business' first home grown e-commerce platform in Europe. A rapid growth trajectory has seen the business make a series of high profile acquisitions and investments to build out a comprehensive portfolio of businesses, encompassing digital content, performance marketing, Internet services, e-commerce and consumer technology.
In just four years, the business has grown from a domestic Japanese success story to a global Internet services force, establishing the beginnings of a digital ecosystem able to deliver consumer services including e-commerce, travel, logistics and digital media and offering an increasingly global alternative to some of the more established players in these fields.
Creating a global e-commerce alternative
A spate of e-commerce acquisitions across Europe, Asia and The Americas between 2008 and 2012, have all been unified under the Rakuten B2B2C model; Rakuten.com Shopping in the US (formerly Buy.com), Rakuten Brazil (formerly Ikeda), Rakuten Germany (previously Tradoria), Play.com in the UK and PriceMinister in France. Almost all businesses have moved exclusively to the marketplace model; with all of them moving towards spotlighting merchants and focusing on developing Rakuten's 'discovery shopping' model.
Since rebranding, Rakuten Brazil has seen a year-on-year increase in orders of 1000%, while Rakuten Germany has grown its merchant base by 30%. A key focus for all of the e-commerce platforms has been the development of technology solutions to make the consumers' life easier, namely by launching dedicated mobile apps for buyers in France, and driving mobile campaigns to grow mobile orders in Indonesia by a staggering 438%. Additionally, partnerships with major financial service providers such as MasterCard in the US now allows the business to offer digital wallet and payment solutions to American consumers while a similar agreement with both MasterCard and Visa offers the same benefits across Thailand.
In late 2012, the company took the major stake in citizen commerce pioneer, The Grommet. The site, which has launched over ten thousand products to the US market in the past four years, focuses on bringing new innovations to market, supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs via digital content and social media channels.
Last year also saw Rakuten make its first major foray into the development of its own logistics capability outside of Japan, with the acquisition of warehouse automation and fulfilment company Alpha Direct Services in France. Last week saw the investment in logistics furthered, with the announcement of the acquisition of industry-leading, cloud-based fulfilment business, Webgistix in North America.
Combined with the success of its B2B2C model across Asia and its own global marketplace, the business' on-going expansion of the marketplace model increasingly offers a global alternative to more traditional e-commerce models. Most recently in 2013, Rakuten Ichiba Taiwan made a significant social marketing innovation move to empower its merchants by partnering up with Facebook, while 2012, saw the grand opening of Rakuten Online Shopping in Malaysia.
Rakuten has just last month launched its Asian Startup Fund, based out of its Asia regional headquarters in Singapore. The fund, which will target start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses related to e-commerce, Internet services and digital content, will look to support and enable the growth of creative firms in the region.
Building a digital content ecosystem
2012 saw the business lead a high-profile, $100 million investment round in image-based social network, Pinterest; this investment kicked off collaboration between Pinterest and domestic businesses, Rakuten Ichiba, Rakuten Travel and Rakuten Recipe.
Rakuten also announced its acquisition of Spanish streaming and video on demand business, Wuaki.tv; this acquisition moved Rakuten beyond social images to moving pictures, giving it access to Wuaki.tv's existing partnerships with Hollywood majors and regional studios, as well as opening up relationships with leading TV manufacturers. Both investments perfectly complement the acquisition of Kobo, a global leader in eReading, in early 2012. Kobo has experienced triple-digit revenue growth year over year, grown its eBookstore to more than 3.4-million titles with 68 languages represented, and has five eReading devices in-market including the Kobo Mini, Kobo Touch, Kobo Glo, Kobo Aura HD E Ink eReaders and Kobo Arc Google-Certified tablet. Rakuten's acquisitions in digital content have set the foundation for a complete consumer ecosystem.
Rakuten Marketing continues to increase its services and geographical spread. CPA network Rakuten LinkShare now spans the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, with plans for further expansion throughout this year. The business, acquired by Rakuten in 2005, last month reported a strong Q1, increasing same store sales in the US by 26 percent year-over-year while the UK saw growth of 29 percent year-over-year. The spate of acquisitions continued as retargeting leader, MediaForge, joined Rakuten Marketing in 2012, while consumer loyalty program provider, Rakuten Loyalty (formerly FreeCause) rebranded to take the Rakuten name following its acquisition in 2009.