How to Sell on Rakuten Japan – Top 10 FAQs Answered

Posted By Jim Kersey

Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant, has expanded its international presence in recent years through various acquisitions and joint ventures. A deal for global sponsorship of FC Barcelona for example, one of the world’s most famous football clubs, has prompted much intrigue from Western nations about the brand and it’s offerings.

While its presence is indeed growing outside of their home territory, exactly how to sell on Rakuten Japan is still unclear for many international merchants and sellers. And this is partly due to Amazon’s overwhelming success in the world of online commerce globally, essentially moulding our expectations about what an ecommerce platform should look like, and how it should function.

Nevertheless, despite Amazon’s strong and growing presence in Japan, the homegrown brand Rakuten and it’s different style of online selling is still one of the nation’s favourite places to shop. With over 49,000 merchants, 111 million members, and sales of $37 billion in 2019, Rakuten is an incredibly popular online marketplace and something worth considering if you’re expanding your reach to Japanese consumers.

For those who are compelled to learn more about Rakuten, its capabilities, requirements, and potential for supporting your business goals when operating in Japan, we’ve created a list of top 10 FAQs to help you better understand how the platform works, and what it has to offer.

Want to Know What the Japan Ecommerce Landscape Looks Like?

What Makes Rakuten Unique?

Like other platforms, Rakuten allows a wide variety of merchants to sell their products on its marketplace. Unlike Amazon, however, it lets you do this much in your own way with a greater level of control and personalization over how you portray your brand, and cater to customers.

Dedicated Online Storefronts

How to sell on Rakuten Japan like Adidas

Sellers each have their own dedicated online storefronts and products pages within the Rakuten platform where they can customize their shops with great flexibility. You can adapt entire layouts from your visual banners and product images, to headlines, text descriptions, and CTA buttons.

Functioning more like an online shopping mall, the user experience can differ greatly depending on which virtual shop they’re browsing. These comprehensive in-platform hubs allow sellers to showcase their brand and use their knowledge of their core target audience to fine tune their channel for increased conversions.

You’re free to make your home and individual product pages as colourful, bizarre, or stylized as you wish. And with the Japanese consumer’s preference for large volumes of information and detail, these pages are often populated with a rush of incredibly vibrant, dynamic, and informative content.

An interesting result of this model is that sellers can actually take some of the focus away from their products themselves, and focus more on the value their brand can offer to customers. If you’re not able to beat your competitors on price alone, this can be incredibly useful.

Loyal Customers

The love for loyalty programs and point cards in Japan is ubiquitous. Reward systems have long been a popular way for businesses to encourage consumers to become loyal, repeat customers. And this is something Rakuten have capitalized on in the world of ecommerce to great effect.

Essentially, the more qualifying purchases you make, the more Rakuten Points you’ll receive. Then, when your Rakuten Points become available for use, you can use them to pay for new purchases on the platform. It’s a simple model, but effective nonetheless. Together with the existing marketplace ecosystem, this makes for an enticing place to shop for Japanese consumers.

Will My Products Sell on Rakuten?

Example of how to sell on Rakuten Japan from Zip Clothing

In general, food, home, and fashion products perform really well on Rakuten. Within these heavy traffic categories, there are some great opportunities for international brands willing to dedicate enough time to personalizing their pages and improving the buyer experience inside the platform.

Do Japanese Shoppers Buy Western Brands?

International brands are popular on Rakuten. As long as your products can offer the local market something new and valuable, you could be able to leverage the ‘exotic’ factor to your advantage. However, if customers can find something similar from a Japanese company at a similar price, you can bet they’ll choose them over you.

If you’re wondering how to sell on Rakuten Japan as a Western brand, we recommend focusing on price, variety, and quality. If you can offer these three things and showcase them through your marketing output, there’s no reason you can’t do well on Rakuten, or any other Japan ecommerce platform.

HB Pro Tip: Consider how selling on Rakuten can complement your existing e commerce activities globally. Items that might seem commonplace or standard in your home market may take on a whole new persona in Japan, if you’re able to focus on its foriegn appeal. Similarly, if you’re finding it hard to shift your clothing stock in smaller sizes, Japan is a good place to sell these items due to average size requirements being generally much smaller than places like the US.

Who Buys From Rakuten Japan?

Rakuten has over 111 million customers in Japan, which is over 80% of the population. While shoppers come from all demographic varieties, a large portion of shoppers are female in the 30-50 age bracket, and many come online to shop for family and household purchases.
Compared to shoppers in other parts of the world, consumers in Japan are even more likely to make purchases based on quality and reputation, rather than price as the sole motivator.

Typically, Japanese shoppers will take longer to vet a particular brand and product before committing, with reviews and testimonials as must-haves in the customer buying journey. With this in mind, Rakuten is a good place for you to convince consumers that you’re reliable, reputable, and focused on quality, through the greater control the platform gives you over how your brand is portrayed.

How Do I Start Selling on Rakuten?

How to sell on Rakuten Japan information page

Discovering how to sell on Rakuten Japan is a slightly more complicated process than using Amazon to sell your products. Firstly, you will need to have an incorporated company registered in either Japan or the US, or else work with a local service partner. However, many companies eligible for selling directly from the US will also choose to use external partners to handle their Japanese operations, for the greater convenience it offers.

There are a number of partners who specialise in this activity, acting as a third-party partner who will help you set up your store on Rakuten and provide operational support. These partners are known as Merchants of Record (MOR) and will operate your webstore, manage interactions with customers, and provide oversight over commercial activities. This can seem daunting when you’re used to having complete control over your company’s management, but it can be one of the best ways to get started.

Setting Up

Logistics and process of how to sell on Rakuten Japan

The process of applying for merchant status is facilitated by a consultant who will advise you on the necessary steps to get set up. Based on your location, products, and intended sales model, they will notify you of the relevant costs and requirements you will face when operating your business on Rakuten Japan.

They will also help you to complete an application package requiring you to fill in appropriate fields and details for your businesses. With luck, many of your more technical questions about how to sell on Rakuten Japan will be answered by these individuals, and they’ll also be able to offer some advice on how you can build your store and start making sales.

What Fees Will I Need to Pay?

Rakuten offers different plans to its sellers. However, if you are selling from abroad, you will need to choose the basic package designed for international merchants. This will include ongoing costs such as registration and monthly account fees, as well as varying fee rates adjusted for your activities, such as commission rates, affiliates fees, and payment processing fees.

HB Pro Tip: If you enlist the help of a service partner, always check upfront how much commission they will charge. This is important for building an overall picture of the relevant fees you’ll pay for operating on Rakuten.

Do I Need to Speak Japanese to Use Rakuten?

How to sell on Rakuten Japan using Japanese customer service support

Under the ‘requirements’ section of Rakuten’s seller information page, it states merchants must be highly proficient in Japanese in order to handle the following tasks:

  • Customer Support
  • Page Maintenance
  • Order and Return Management
  • Marketing Campaigns
  • Operating the Shop Interface

Essentially, this requires you to have native Japanese speakers on your team already, or an external partner who can help you handle all these processes. Also, conveying your brand in the right way on your online storefront will require perfectly translated and localized content for your audience.

In Japan, the expectations for high quality customer service are real. And there is a presumption that brands and sellers will put themselves at the full service of their customers to help them in any way possible. This can mean answering comprehensive inquiries through email or telephone about product quality, delivery times, or returns.

Again, many merchants look for support from local partners who can handle these daily ecommerce activities effectively. This can also help you to build greater trust with your customers as you deliver the same kind of Japanese fluency and personalization that they’re used to. Without this, you can easily lose out to domestic competition.

Is Rakuten Better than Other Japan Ecommerce Platforms?

This is a hard question to answer. Figuring out how to sell on Rakuten Japan is one thing, but deciding which platform is best for your purposes and long-term goals will depend on the unique nature of your business and products.

The suitability of your ecommerce platform will also depend on your resource capabilities and how willing you are to invest time into creating the most conversion-focused ecommerce strategy possible. And this is something that might require activity on more than just one platform.

For a more detailed look at other major Japan ecommerce platforms and their characteristics, take a look at our article: Japan Ecommerce – Amazon, Rakuten or Yahoo!?

Contact Us for Tailored Advice on Building a Japanese Ecommerce Strategy

Contact Us!

How is Shipping and Delivery Handled?

International merchants can opt for direct cross-border shipping or in-country warehousing models such as the Rakuten Super Logistics solution, offering full-service freight management, multichannel order fulfillment, and return management for online orders. The most viable choice can greatly depend on the types of products you are shipping, sales volumes, storage costs, and your ability (or willingness) to handle merchant fulfilment yourself.

At Humble Bunny, we always recommend using in-country warehousing. The reason is simple. Japanese consumers are spoiled by the next day delivery and prefer their products to arrive quickly. You can opt to work with a low cost independent warehouse solution or utilize the warehousing/shipping services provided by marketplaces like Rakuten (or Amazon). The benefit of the latter is that you will see better conversion and more sales due to the reliability and trust these solutions instill in consumers.

A common setup is to use independent solutions for long-term storage, but to fulfill “last mile” (to the customer) via a marketplace solution. And if you’re already selling on Amazon and using the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) service, you might also be able to integrate your Rakuten sales through the Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF) option. This will allow you to leverage Amazon’s logistical support to handle deliveries from other platforms.

Learn More About Selling on Amazon Japan

How Do I Market My Product on Rakuten?

Example of how to sell on Rakuten Japan like Dark Angel clothing store

Ecommerce marketing isn’t something you should take lightly. Just like all effective ecommerce or PPC activities in Japan require careful thought and planning, success on Rakuten will depend on how comprehensive your platform marketing strategy is. For instance, having the right keywords (researched and optimized for the Japanese market) is crucial for making sure you show up in the right places.

What you get from Rakuten will depend on how much you’re willing to invest in it.
As mentioned, the online store functionality is a big component of selling on Rakuten Japan. Getting this right will give you more than just a competitive advantage, it will help you keep up with the high standards of presentation Rakuten shoppers are used to. To keep people from clicking away from your page, make sure you’re investing enough energy into making your Rakuten storefront and product pages as amazing as they can be.

Interested in SEM Marketing? We’ve Got Some Tips!

Seasonal Marketing

Japan’s shopping culture is closely mapped to its seasons, whether that’s through significant gifting periods in summer “ochugen” and winter “oseibo”, where online shopping can spike from individuals buying presents for their friends and families, or annual sales periods and discount campaigns.

As such, many brands will seriously adapt their store pages based on the current season, with new themes designed to entertain and excite shoppers into making purchases. These adjustments and optimizations are what can help you stay ahead of competitors and drive greater interest and engagement from your potential customers.

HB Pro Tip: The biggest sales in Japan are the winter and summer sales. Clothing colors and materials will change according to the season, and in order to build a better shopping experience for your Japanese customers, it’s advised to adapt your Rakuten page’s visual style to match the mood of the moment.

Customer Feedback and Reputation

Brand reputation in Japan is everything. And a poor review or complaint from an unhappy customer can spread rapidly. You’ll do well to pay extra attention to what people are saying about your customer service quality, product descriptions, shipment speed, and anything else that customers might pick up on.

The kind of feedback customers leave on Rakuten will actually influence a merchant’s rating and how they are ranked. Addressing these ASAP could have a much bigger impact on your ability to reach consumers than you first realise.

Plenty of High Quality Visuals

When it comes to online shopping in Japan, one of the biggest causes of resistance for consumer purchases is the inability to visualize a product well enough. Take plenty of high quality photos of your product and don’t be afraid to throw in a few more for good measure! Featuring your product with Japanese models or used in-context will also help your approach here.

HB Pro Tip: Based on our experience and extensive testing on Japanese e-commerce platforms, we’ve noticed a conversion rate improvement of between 14% and 50% month-on-month for products that have optimized images for the Japanese market. This includes using custom annotations to underline USPs on the image itself, adding icons, and additional elements designed to add value, appeal, and information to images. This should also be complemented with accurate product titles, features, and product descriptions for the best chance of success.

Do I Need to Pay Taxes on Imports with Rakuten Japan?

How to sell on Rakuten Japan and improve customer reviews

In terms of taxes, if your brand is operating a direct cross-border shipping model, imports are exempt from duty under the value of around ¥16,666 JPY ($150 USD). However, taxes will be payable on imports over this threshold and exemptions may not apply to certain product types, depending on their impact on the domestic market and other circumstances.

If you’re bulk importing, this will incur consumption tax when your container arrives in Japan, which is imposed at the rate of 10% (standard tax rate) or 8% (reduced tax rate). If you’re worried about the overall cost of operation going up because of this, you can consider increasing your retail price to cover the difference. Just make sure you consider how specific duty taxes apply to your products and are able to retain your price competitiveness on Rakuten.

Contact Us for Help Building Your Japan Ecommerce Strategy.

Contact Us!

Why Should I Sell on Rakuten Japan?

Japan has a mature and rapidly growing ecommerce market. According to Statista, the number of digital buyers in Japan increased by around 7% from 2014 to 2018, and continues to grow. With a strong GDP per capita and a healthy inclination for Western brands, there is clearly huge potential here if you get your Japanese ecommerce strategy right.

When it comes to choosing Rakuten specifically as your Japan ecommerce platform of choice, this largely comes down to your willingness to abide by the platform’s unique quirks and requirements. Figuring out how to sell on Rakuten Japan might not be as easy as getting started on Amazon Japan, but it will offer you greater control over how you portray your brand to consumers in one of the most exciting online marketplaces available to merchants today.

Want More?

Get up-to-date on the Japanese market with our monthly newsletter.

Nearly done, one more thing