Those familiar with the award-winning Play.com will welcome the news of Rakuten’s arrival in the UK. Play.com was bought by Rakuten in 2011 for a reported £25m, by which time the Cambridge-based online retailer had accumulated 17m registered users.
As Rakuten prepares for its UK launch in October 2014, Play.com will be phased out as a direct retailer to be replaced by Rakuten’s equally successful third-party format. Rakuten provides an alternative e-commerce Marketplace in which merchants and customers can connect and trade with one another. Employing 11,000 people, Rakuten is the sixth largest internet services provider globally.
Whilst there have been mutterings regarding the adequacy of Rakuten’s communication with existing Play.com users, the new arrival of a competitor in market will undoubtedly be welcomed. Existing merchants will be able to access Rakuten’s global platform, which originated in Japan where 95 per cent of the population use Rakuten. Furthermore, Rakuten has recently acquired US based e-commerce app Slice for an undisclosed sum, paving the way to open up the US market to users of Rakuten.
It has also acquired successful British businesses including Viber and Kobo, signalling its intent in the UK online marketplace. Rakuten’s central appeal is to the independent merchant, attracting ‘unique and interesting’ retailers to their customers. The easy-to-use personalisation of merchants’ online stores, with the added option of the Rakuten Academy to help hone an individual’s e-commerce skills, makes it an attractive marketplace for rapidly growing businesses.
Rakuten has put a real emphasis on creating brand loyalty through a loyalty scheme called ‘Superpoints’, and building strong customer relationships through marketing and customer services. Rakuten’s success in the UK will be dependent on its ability to differentiate itself through offering unique and superior services to its customers.