With over 49,000 merchants, 111 million members and sales of $37 billion in 2019, Rakuten Ichiba is regarded as the most popular marketplace in Japan and one of the largest ecommerce platforms in the world.
Rakuten’s ecommerce platform, called Rakuten Ichiba, began life in 1997. It’s an online marketplace which allows a wide variety of vendors to sell their products, in their own way. Rakuten Japan does not sell any products itself – it’s a pure third-party marketplace, founded on the idea that online shopping should be both entertaining and highly personalized.
Since 2005, Rakuten has expanded internationally through acquisitions and joint ventures. It launched its first business outside of Japan, Taiwan Rakuten Ichiba in 2008 and then went on to purchase Buy.com in the US (Rakuten.com) in 2010, Priceminister in France (Rakuten France) in 2010, Tradoria in Germany (Rakuten Germany) in 2011, and then Ebates (Rakuten Rewards) in 2014. Rakuten is also the single largest shareholder of Lyft and owns messaging app Viber.
Even with Rakuten’s global expansion, and diversification into online media and sports partnerships, the core of its business is still deeply rooted in Japanese ecommerce. It’s the current market leader and presents a compelling proposition to aspiring brands and merchants from all around the world.
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Online shopping in Japan
When looking to expand into Asia, many ecommerce businesses think first of China – and why not? It’s the most populous country in the world, with a fast-growing economy and a burgeoning base of young Gen-Z consumers, who are continually hunting for the latest must-have products through domestic online marketplaces such as Alibaba and Tmall.
However, Japan also has a large and mature ecommerce market. In 2019, Japanese ecommerce generated $90 billion in sales, compared to $365 million in the US and $670 billion in China. The GDP per capita in Japan is four times that of China, with more than 90% of consumers actively shopping online. To cap it off, unlike in the United States, return rates are extremely low in Japan.
In Japanese ecommerce, marketplaces dominate the landscape and Rakuten Ichiba is the colossus – nearly one-third of all ecommerce in Japan flows through Rakuten’s marketplace.
What is Rakuten Ichiba like as a marketplace?
Rakuten Ichiba functions like a massive shopping mall in the virtual world. When users log onto the marketplace, they’re immediately greeted with a rush of colorful banners advertising the latest sales and events.
As a pure third-party marketplace, Rakuten Ichiba provides an open platform and a unique and highly personalized online shopping experience, with merchants at its core. The types of merchants selling on Rakuten include manufacturers, brands, retailers, and resellers.
Sellers each have their own landing page within Rakuten Japan that takes visitors straight to their shop on the marketplace. They have greater flexibility in the way that they design their page layout, making a more varied buying experience when compared to a product-centric site like Amazon.
Each shop owner on Rakuten Ichiba has complete control over how their products are sold and merchandised. Merchants can customize their storefront and update it as they like throughout the year, adapting to seasonal trends and updating product listings to appeal to new waves of users.
The overall model is somewhere between Amazon’s catalog-driven approach where products are very strictly categorized and the looser listing-based approach typified by eBay.
What kind of products are sold on Rakuten Ichiba?
International brands are very popular such as Weber, Myprotein and Daniel Wellington, among others. In addition, there are a vast number of major Japanese brands. As a general rule, if you can’t find a product locally in Japanese stores, Rakuten Ichiba will most likely have it.
Food, home, and apparel are the most heavily shopped product categories on the marketplace. Within these three, there are also several sub-categories, presenting a wide variety of products – most are well covered although some are more popular than others.
Fashion, for example, is one of the more popular categories, and offers great opportunities for international brands.
Who buys from Rakuten Ichiba?
Rakuten Ichiba has over 115 million customers in Japan, which is more than 90% of the entire population. It encompasses all corners of modern Japanese society, from students to housewives. Unlike Amazon Japan though, the demographic of shoppers on Rakuten Ichiba are typically female users between the ages of 30 and 50, and they are often making family purchases.
When compared with consumers in other parts of the world, the Japanese are fundamentally different in how they shop online. Rather than being motivated solely by price and convenience, they are much more concerned with overall quality.
By nature, Japanese people are careful and considerate in their decision making when shopping. They take time planning their purchases and research the best options available before making a decision to buy.
Rakuten store and listing design: a comparison
One successful merchant on Rakuten in Japan is Weber-Stephen Products, the American company behind Weber charcoal, gas and electric outdoor grills. In 2018, they decided to go global by opening a shop on Rakuten Ichiba.
Since launching, their storefront has undergone heavy renovation but none more dramatically than at the start of 2020. Below is a comparison between Weber’s product category page for “gas grills” on their own website (left) and Rakuten Ichiba (right).