Japan’s Largest Online Marketplace: Rakuten Explained

The final piece of the puzzle for anyone who wants to start selling in Japan is to choose what eCommerce platform is going to be the best for them. No matter what angle you take, Rakuten is the best choice for anyone who wants to sell online in Japan. In this article, you will learn about Rakuten, how to get started, and the features that put this online marketplace leagues ahead of its competitors.

Rakuten is the largest eCommerce marketplace in Japan with more than 26.8% of all online sales taking place on the platform. There are over 111.4 million Japanese users registered on the site which means that 80% of the country’s population uses Rakuten. It is very widely used and has a track record of more than two decades serving its customers’ best interests.

Japanese consumers trust the platform and trust is exceedingly important in Japan. Coming to an established platform like Rakuten that has such an extensive user base provides access to millions of potential customers and provides instant credibility to penetrate the market.

There are roughly 50,000 merchants registered on Rakuten and gross merchandise sales exceeded $37 billion USD in 2019. It is an incredibly large online marketplace not just in Japan but also by global standards.

Rakuten was founded in 1997 and has been slowly pushing forward ever since. Most Americans had probably never heard of Rakuten until 2014 when the shopping rewards company Ebates was acquired by the company. Ebates was a cash-back and shopping rewards service in which online shoppers can earn cash back through finding more than 2,500 partner retailers and brands through its platform.

Ebates didn’t fully rebrand as Rakuten until late 2019. Rakuten has also invested in Lyft and partnered with massive American names like Walmart, the Golden State Warriors and the NBA to name a few. Despite pursuing multiple endeavors to expand, Rakuten remains dedicated to its online marketplace and the multitude of services it offers to Japan; these endeavors are completely separate. This dedication is what sets it apart for consumers and sellers alike.

It's a straightforward process to get started

One of the reasons that Rakuten is such a great option to start selling in Japan is that it has opened international sellers onboarding service to the American sellers first before any other country.

In order to make joining their Japanese platform easier and more accessible, the company has also stationed a dedicated team in their US headquarters (San Mateo, CA) to provide local support to the American sellers. Users receive a free consultation for expanding their business to Japan with one of their onboarding consultants by filling out a basic contact information from their onboard guidance page.

After you are well informed of what to prepare, you will have to go through an application process. This is an important feature that helps provide Japanese consumers peace of mind. All new merchants are closely examined and must be completely vetted before they’re allowed access to the platform which helps create trust.

Businesses do not need to have a Japanese business entity in order to be eligible to sell on Rakuten. Businesses that operate out of the United States are completely welcome. International sellers from any country that isn’t listed for the Direct Shop Plan will be required to sign a contract with a Rakuten-approved service partner, though. The service partner is a third-party entity that will give you a local team to set up your store.

Criteria to sell on Rakuten

Rakuten platform

Since many are not likely to have an existing Japanese entity, you will want to be familiar with the following criteria to sell on Rakuten:

The business must be incorporated and not be operating as a sole proprietorship

The company must already have a eCommerce site or sell on a third-party platform

The business must be capable of establishing reliable logistics so products can go straight from you to your customers

It must have great capabilities in Japanese language or you are capable of securing a trusted third-party partner or a freelancer to set up and manage the store.

The application process

Once a business is confident it meets all of those criteria, it should reach out to a representative by visiting the onboard guidance page and fill out the contact information. The representative from Rakuten will reach out to you and cater to any question you may have about the platform and Japanese market in general so that you can make an informed decision before it is time to register.

During the registration process, you will need to provide your company details and some basic information about your business, and your contact information. You’ll receive an application kit from the representative you talk to if you both agree that you’re ready.

If you’re ready to proceed, your application will be sent in for the screening process to begin. They will verify the information that you provided and make sure that you are a legitimate business and don’t have any serious problems in your history as a US seller. The application kit contains important documents you’ll need to complete before you can set up your store.

Rakuten has taken extra steps in recent years to streamline the application process and make it more easily accessible for US-based businesses. Businesses will even be able to receive all payouts in USD, no conversion necessary! This is because you will sign up with PingPong, an ecommerce global payment company that makes accessing your funds simple and painless.

After you have submitted your full application and have passed the screening process, you’ll be able to officially register. Then, you will be able to access your Rakuten account and set up your online store. Don’t worry, you will have another Rakuten representative who will assist and answer any question regarding the store set up.

This entire process can take about 2-3 weeks to complete. While you’re waiting to receive your documents, that is the perfect time to even out some logistics and make sure you have access to reliable translators.

It's packed with amazing features

Rakuten is so widely successful because it is designed, in every way, to provide businesses and consumers with the best possible online shopping experience.

One of the main things that sets Rakuten apart is that it isn’t an online marketplace that functions as a catalog of products.

In the past, it has been likened to the equivalent of an online shopping mall. The shop-centric focus of Rakuten helps provide a consumer-centric experience for shoppers.

With account access, you will be able to set up a completely customizable digital storefront. Japanese consumers favor this as opposed to the format of Rakuten’s main competitors. Your digital storefront is where you will tell the story of your brand, explain your policies, showcase products, and more.

You have the ability to update your storefront at any time to reflect any sales, promotions, holidays, or general updates to the way you run your business and the products you offer. This is one of the main differentiators for Rakuten. It is a rich ecosystem of businesses that function independently.

Product pages are given the exact same flexibility. Rakuten allows you to create custom pages for each individual product that you sell. This is extremely useful because these dedicated pages help you reach your customers more effectively. You can include as many photos, features, descriptions, and other details that you see fit.

Having access to as much information as possible is part of the reason why shoppers in Japan love Rakuten so much. This attention to detail truly enhances the customer shopping experience.

The extensive options you’ll have for these pages will allow you to curate gorgeous content that provides strong visuals and highlight the features and benefits of your products.

You can also show step-by-step examples of how to use it. Rich information and rich tutorials can help boost your sales because it makes product selection engaging and immersive. This level of customization is something you can only find on Rakuten.

If the prospect of setting up a completely custom online store seems overwhelming, you’ll be pleased to know that you have nothing to worry about. Every seller on Rakuten is paired with an advisor to help walk you through opening your shop.

This advisor can provide you with advice for setting up your account, design tips for your shop, and can help you perfect your merchandising strategy with market insight and years of experience.

Your dedicated Merchant Development Manager

You will also have a Merchant Development Manager that will help familiarize you with the specifics of cross-border trading and Japanese eCommerce. Finally, the last member on your team of dedicated consultants is the eCommerce Consultant. They will help point you in the right direction with promotional guidance, tips to improve your marketing strategies, and ongoing performance feedback.

Rakuten offers exceptional customer support for both sellers and shoppers. You will be able to access help any time you need it while you run your shop on the platform.

It has everything your customers want

Rakuten platform features

One of the things that has grown Rakuten to the eCommerce powerhouse that it is is that customers love it. The verification process sellers go through helps establish trust for your business, the detailed storefront and product pages help potential buyers get to know you and your products, and the customer support helps problems get resolved with ease.

Each company is responsible for customer support; however, you will have access to a consultant that helps you handle customer service effectively. Japanese consumers also have the opportunity to raise problems directly with Rakuten if necessary.

Rakuten offers sellers the opportunity to include more shipping options than any other platform to help maximize flexibility for their customers. Customers tend to prefer free shipping and have gotten accustomed to very fast delivery times because Japan is such a small country, geographically speaking.

This isn’t a dealbreaker for many shoppers, though. The best part is that there are no shipping-related surprises for customers at checkout because you can include information about standard, priority, expedited, and other shipping options you offer.

Instead, consumers will be able to see right away when navigating to your shop if you’re shipping from outside of Japan and detail the cost and delivery time that they can expect when purchasing your products. This is very important because transparency is something Japanese consumers expect from shop owners like you.

The feedback system, which takes shape as user reviews, on Rakuten is another way that shoppers are offered great transparency. After making a purchase, people are able to rate sellers as well as each individual product that they bought.

Your customers will be asked to rate their experience based on several factors like item description accuracy, condition of the item, shipping speed, and customer service. The reviews that you receive may impact your placement in search rankings.

Negative reviews are not allowed to be removed. This helps shoppers know that all of the information they see is true and reflects the accurate experience of people who’ve bought from you in the past. It also further incentivizes shop owners to provide the best possible products and customer service.

It has everything you need as a seller

Rakuten is an amazing online marketplace for businesses that want to sell their products in Japan. Keep in mind that you must already have an eCommerce presence and be properly incorporated. There are a handful of additional features that Rakuten has created to help you reach your business goals when you expand globally.

Rakuten has multiple logistic partners that you can reach out to in order to help you with order fulfillment if you do not already have your fulfillment channels in place. If you do already have logistics organized, Rakuten does not require you to make any changes.

There are also official service partners that offer translation and localization. Having a dedicated partner for this is crucial to your success and Rakuten takes the guesswork out of finding someone reliable and reputable to get it done.

These official service partners don’t just translate your pages into Japanese; they also help you to seamlessly localize your content to fit the preferences of Japanese shoppers. The majority of them actually run all general store operations on your behalf.

Rakuten also provides you with some great promotional tools for running your store. Rakuten users receive 1% in point back as a default, but you have the option to participate in the Rakuten Points program and you could offer your shoppers as much as 20% points back daily.

You can run seasonal sales or major promotions or provide coupons and temporary points bonuses to shoppers. There are tools that will help you push add-ons, upsells, and return customers.

You will have amazing customer outreach tools built right in with R-Mail. R-mail is an email marketing feature in which you’ll be able to send things like email magazines to promote sales, new product launch information, and prompts to come shop with you again to those users who have bought from your store in the past. This is a super unique feature which most of Rakuten’s competitors, like Amazon, do not offer.

Also, all of the data you could ever need will be right at your fingertips thanks to the Rakuten Merchant Server. The RMS stores data like traffic, sales, demographics, and more. You will also be able to run tests and gain a ton of valuable insight using this tool.

Order management, customer management, analytics, and listing optimization are all important tasks to keeping your store running the way you want it to and the RMS makes all of these things easy.

It has a built-in loyalty program

Finally, the most popular feature on Rakuten has to be its robust customer loyalty program. A large portion of Japanese shoppers choose the online marketplace they frequent based on their ability to rack up rewards points.

This is one of the key things that distinguishes Rakuten among its competitors. This program is called Rakuten Points®. Rakuten has done some amazing things with this program.

Rakuten offers more than 70 services in total, spanning eCommerce, financial services, and content business. Although Rakuten got started as an eCommerce company, it is now one of the market leaders in many fields. Rakuten has one of Japan’s largest credit cards, and is number one in terms of transaction volume.

If one of the 20 million Rakuten Card users shops at Rakuten, they get a bonus and receive as much as 3% back. Even if you are not using the card in Rakuten services, 1% of your card spending gets redeemed as Rakuten Point. This is just one example of how the Rakuten ecosystem is creating synergy.

Online banking, mobile phone businesses, this credit card, and many other services create a lot of synergy with the loyalty program, further deepening customer ties to the platform.

Rakuten has issued more than 2 trillion points (roughly equivalent to $2 billion) since piloting the program in 2002
Roughly half of those points have been issued in the last three years because the opportunities for shoppers to earn them have expanded. In 2019 alone, 32 billion Rakuten Points were issued
Expanding the program has ramped up usage across multiple services Rakuten offers, which shows that shoppers are excited about the benefits of membership. In fact, the number of shoppers who use more than two Rakuten services increased from 64.9% in 2017 to 72.3% in 2019.

Customers have the chance to earn Standard Points by making regular purchases as well as Limited Time Points by participating in special promotional events. There are special member days that allow shoppers to earn a ton of extra points, too.

In these kinds of events, users can earn up to 40+%. Sellers will be able to create store events and shoppers will have occasional bonus offers that are tailored to their shopping habits.

Running promotions to help increase the number of points your customers receive is a great way to help bring repeat customers. This loyalty points program is extremely popular in Japan and it is something customers truly enjoy. Tapping into the possibilities with this loyalty program could help you really propel your business forward once you start selling in Japan.

One thing that has helped truly drive the popularity of this points system is that Rakuten also offers the credit card you just read about.

However, the hottest thing Rakuten has going right now is their mobile business. In just the past year, Rakuten has become one of the top-five mobile providers in Japan and plans to soon roll out 5G to its users. Customers will be able to use Rakuten Points towards their phone bills too!

Anything that helps bolster customer loyalty to the platform is going to help keep your customer base broad; then, you can utilize the points system to your own advantage to drive your own repeat sales.

Rakuten is the full package

No matter what type of products you sell or what level of experience you have, there is no better eCommerce platform out there. Rakuten has a great reputation, the largest market share, the largest user base, and the most perfectly tailored features that can help you secure your success.