Why You Should Sell on Rakuten, Japan’s Massive Ecommerce Market

Most Rakuten shoppers browse the website on mobile devices

Posted By Caylon Neely This page is currently only available in 英語.

When you’re planning to start selling your products in the Japanese market (or are already doing so), it makes sense to consider using one of the country’s most popular ecommerce platforms, Rakuten.

If you didn’t know already, Rakuten is Japan’s homegrown ecommerce giant and people love shopping on its virtual stores, with offerings from thousands of both global and domestic brands. To learn more about this major ecommerce player and to find out whether you should be using it, read on!

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Why You Can’t Ignore Rakuten in Japan

Rakuten gives you access to a huge volume of potential customers. It’s been beaten by Amazon in recent years in terms of overall popularity, but it still commands around 30% of the total ecommerce market!

*Tap or Hover on the graph below to see details.

Source: Statista

Most Product Categories Have Potential On Rakuten

The top selling categories in Japan regularly include apparel, household goods, and food, which record a greater market share when compared to sales on other Japanese ecommerce contenders, such as Amazon and Yahoo! Shopping (according to the platform’s own data).

As we’ve operated in the world of Japanese ecommerce for several years now, we’ve seen hundreds of Western brands selling all kinds of goods succeed on Rakuten. And brands with strong recognition and credibility here have the potential to increase prices beyond what’s possible on other channels that are more price-sensitive.

HB Pro Tip: Companies that have a more visually appealing brand or products seem to do much better than those that don’t. On Rakuten, it’s less about what you’re selling and more about how.

Japanese Rakuten Shoppers Are Loyal

Japanese Rakuten Japan shopper using loyalty card to purchase items

Rakuten has a robust points system, which is linked to customer’s credit cards and has been integrated across hundreds of stores throughout Japan. The system essentially allows shoppers to gain points for purchases on the Rakuten market, as well as from offline purchases at participating stores.

The popularity of Rakuten’s point scheme has increased almost exponentially since it was launched in 2002 and the company has now issued over $2 billion worth of Rakuten points!

Points create strong loyalty among shoppers, incentivizing them to purchase items on Rakuten instead of other marketplaces in order to build up their points.

Who Buys From Rakuten Japan?

Rakuten has over 120 million customer members in Japan, which is over 80% of the population. While shoppers come from all demographics, a large portion 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.

Learn More About Japanese Consumer Preferences!

How to Sell on Rakuten Japan

Merchant taking product photos in preparation for selling on Rakuten Japan

Understanding how Rakuten works for merchants and buyers will give you an idea about whether your brand and products should be on here.
The platform functions differently to the Amazon-style model you’re probably used to. This, depending on your goals and resources, could be a major reason for investing your resources here, or a reason to potentially avoid it.

Shopping Mall Experience

Woman enjoying shopping mall in Japan to symbolize Rakuten Japan customer experience

Rakuten isn’t an “open” ecommerce marketplace like Amazon and other ecommerce platforms around the world. Some describe Amazon as a “vending machine”, offering customers quick access to cheap products, compared to Rakuten’s “shopping mall” style experience, particularly well-suited to Japanese consumers who are incredibly brand-sensitive and seek out rewarding shopping experiences.

To do well on Rakuten, you need to build fully-branded virtual storefronts that leverage high-impact visuals, 100% localized ecommerce descriptions, incredible product photography, and the general magic of your brand projected across your dedicated sales channel.

If you don’t have the time or resources to build a non-generic store page, you’ll likely suffer low sales conversions from Japanese consumers who expect a greater amount of quality and personalisation in their online shopping experiences on Rakuten.

You might ask, why don’t shoppers just go to the brand’s website rather than a hub that sits within an ecommerce platform? And the most likely answer is that many prefer the enhanced security and loyalty reward programs offered by ecommerce marketplaces over brand shop websites.

The Rakuten homepage itself also forms a kind of foyer where people can get inspiration and check out the latest deals before navigating to a particular virtual shop within the platform’s digital ecosystem.

This setup gives you a lot more opportunities to highlight offers, encourage add-on purchases, and find ways to encourage customers to come back. You have a large degree of freedom to design the page the way you think will be most effective for sales.

HB Pro Tip: Every seller has to design and create an individual store page. It’s basically a mini-website within the Rakuten Marketplace that serves as your store’s home on the site. To do this, you’ll need to invest some time and resources into getting it right. A basic page with shallow content won’t perform well at all.

Optimize Your Content For Rakuten SEO

Just like Amazon, Rakuten has its own algorithm that handles all customer searches. It gives heavy preference to actual performance on the site, giving products with high sales numbers and solid reviews preference over low sellers.

There is also a complex system of taxonomies that Rakuten uses to organize products according to the data that the seller provides.

So how do you get placed high if you don’t have high sales or reviews on your product? You have to play the SEO game from the bottom up. Target long-tail keywords which are lower in search volume but more descriptive and targeted to your target market.

For example, instead of using a broad short-tail keyword such as “baseball bats,” make it more specific and direct, such as “baseball bats approved for high school baseball.” Keywords can easily be integrated into long and detailed product descriptions, which are actually good and expected by Japanese readers.

Go Further With Your Imagery

Premium product imagery and design concept example for Rakuten Japan

Imagery is a huge part of the online shopping experience. Your choice of photographs and graphics should tell a story about your brand and relate to customers, while building the quality perception of your product or brand in the process.

For localization, having Japanese models or Japanese settings for your images can also deliver an important hint to viewers that you’re speaking to them directly.

HB Pro Tip: A mobile-first mindset is also very important when choosing imagery as Rakuten automatically formats your content for mobile platforms. Try to avoid small text on images, and always check your images on a smaller screen to be sure that they are legible to mobile users.

Use Product Names And Descriptions That Make Sense

The Japanese language uses many loan words (words borrowed from other languages and integrated into Japanese), and the interpretation of such words can vary from what they mean in their original language.

Be sure to double check when you get translations of your product names and descriptions. Search the main terms for each item and confirm that the results match what you expect the English equivalent to be.

For SEO, be sure that your copywriter understands the correct ways to implement your keywords onto your page. There are three different sets of characters in Japanese and it’s imperative that you use the correct and most popular spelling of your keywords to be relevant in SEO.

HB Pro Tip: English can also be a powerful addition to your content if used strategically, as we’ve mentioned in previous articles. Short English phrases or words are commonly used for Japanese promotions and are successful at creating interest and helping recollection.

Rakuten Virtual Storefront Inspiration

United Arrows virtual storefront on Rakuten Japan

There’s a huge variety of different design styles and UX approaches to be found on Rakuten. And this is part of the platform’s charm. Just like shopping in a real shopping mall, the look and feel of a particular store will change drastically depending on the brand.

You’ll find plenty of international fashion brands relying on minimal page designs that follow more Western design approaches for websites, such as the example above from United Arrows (one of the most popular foreign brands in Japan).

You’ll also find plenty of virtual stores that adhere to more traditional Japanese web design approaches, such as the example above from Yomeishu, with a large amount of visual elements above the fold, including several slideshow banners that rotate in quick succession.

Yomeishu-virtual storefront on Rakuten Japan

This can appear chaotic and “busy” to those who aren’t familiar with this style, but it’s in fact a classic approach in Japan used to convey key information to browsers in a small space — considered a strength in many settings rather than a weakness.

Bobbi Brown virtual storefront on Rakuten Japan

There are also plenty of virtual stores that sit somewhere in between, such as Bobbi Brown’s Rakuten storefront (above). The approach you take will depend on the kind of users you are targeting; your brand and products, and the way you want to communicate key selling points to your customers.

If you need more advice about this topic, why not take a look at our article: Advertising Design in Japan – Styles, Principles and Practical Advice for Foreign Brands

Practical Considerations

Ecommerce director planning logistics for selling on Rakuten Japan

Before you actually get started, there are a few potential barriers that you need to consider. Before you can actively start building your page and marketing to customers within the platform, Rakuten must confirm that you are the producer/authorized seller of your product or that you have a license to sell it legally in Japan.

Also, you must be sure that your product complies with all Japanese laws and regulations. And Rakuten also has its own list of products that are banned from their stores. Essentially, each product must be officially approved by Rakuten before launch.

Getting Registered

To register, 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 web-store, manage interactions with customers, and provide oversight over commercial activities.

Fees

Rakuten offers different plans to its sellers. As a business selling from abroad, you will typically 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, affiliate 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 determining the total fees you’ll pay for operating on Rakuten.

Japanese Language Support

Lady offering local customer support to customers on Rakuten Japan

Rakuten requires merchants to 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, or an external partner who can help you handle all these processes.

The expectation for high quality customer service in Japan is real. And there’s a presumption that brands and sellers will put themselves at the full service of their customers to help them in any way possible. If you’re not able to do this, and require some additional support, Amazon might be the better option for you as it offers a basic level of Japanese customer support.

To learn more about how Rakuten compares to Amazon, take a look at our blog: Japan Ecommerce – Amazon, Rakuten or Yahoo!?

Want to Start Selling Your Products in Japan?

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Should You Start Selling on Rakuten in Japan?

Homepage of Rakuten Japan

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 may lose out.

If you’ve never sold in the Japanese market before, tackling Rakuten as your first platform can be a lot to take on. It simply demands more from you as a merchant and requires you to maintain your storefront and operations more rigorously.

However, if you’re already doing well on Amazon, or are launching a multiple platform approach and want to sell products on Japan’s two most popular ecommerce marketplaces at the same time, Rakuten gives you the opportunity to capture sales from the millions of Japanese shoppers.

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