Rakuten Ramps Up for Europe
Rakuten, which runs Japan’s biggest online mall, with nearly 40 million users and sales last year of ¥460 billion, or $1.6 billion is gearing up to launch services in the U.K. according to this article on IHT. The e-tailer recently bought 54 percent of an Internet phone company in Japan with an eye to merging some telecommunications services with Internet shopping. Rakuten plans to trade on its own name by first opening an online store in Britain by the end of the year.
John Kim, Rakuten’s executive vice president for international business and president of Rakuten USA, said in an interview that Europe, like Japan, has a large population of niche, specialist businesses underrepresented in Internet commerce. He sees an opening in bringing Europe’s small merchants online.
Rather than commit to debuts in other European geographies after that, Kim instead hinted that Rakuten’s ensuing expansions here would be over the mobile phone, a device that is serving the company well at home, where e-commerce via handsets now exceeds traditional department store sales. In Japan, roughly 12% of Rakuten’s gross merchandise sales are made by cellphone.