How to Sell on Rakuten in Japan – 3 Insider Tips

Posted By Jim Kersey

It wouldn’t be a mistake to consider using Rakuten to sell your products in Japan, given its popularity in the country and its share of the total ecommerce market. However, it would be a mistake to do this without knowing what you’re getting into.

For anyone wondering how to sell on Rakuten Japan (a platform that is different to Amazon in many fundamental ways), we’ve pulled together our top 3 most important insider tips which should also serve as a glimpse into the platforms’ major strengths and weaknesses.

Table of Contents

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Don’t Do It Alone

Japanese ecommerce team working on how to sell on Rakuten in Japan

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

So, unless you have a team of Japanese native speakers on your staff, you’ll need to partner with people who can help you handle all of these processes, whether it’s answering comprehensive inquiries directly or dealing with complaints about quality.

This might be a company specifically designed to help Western companies get set up on Rakuten, handling ongoing day-to-day ecommerce operations on your behalf. Or, it could be a local seller who is willing to buy your product in bulk at a wholesale price.

Virtual storefront design and in-platform marketing also require Japanese support so that your products are retrieved in search results for important keywords, and to ensure your overall brand is enticing for local shoppers who have high expectations for visual presentation and user experience.

HB Pro Tip: Success on Rakuten requires so much more than just translation. Full and ongoing localization is needed to build greater trust with your customers as you endeavour to deliver the same kind of Japanese fluency and personalization that they’re used to.

Invest Only When the Time Is Right

How to sell on Rakuten Japan seller’s website page

Selling on any one platform whether it’s Amazon, Rakuten or Yahoo! Japan takes time and money. And pushing forward when you don’t have the resources and bandwidth to achieve traction in the early stages of launching your product can be incredibly damaging to your long-term market entry plans.

The biggest reason for this in our eyes is sales velocity. Unless you’re able to drive strong sales (both in terms of quantity and total revenue generated) quickly, ecommerce platform algorithms won’t reward you with a high position in user search results, no matter how good your Rakuten SEO strategy is.

The thing to remember is: the more ecommerce sales you make, the higher Rakuten will rank you, meaning you’ll appear higher in search results for terms that relate to your brand and products. If you start off slowly and carefully (regardless how well-meaning your intentions are), you could find yourself with a higher acquisition cost carried over a long period of time.

Alternatively, going in hard and strategically from the start is advised to let you attract the necessary level of attention your products need for your operation in Japan to be profitable.

HB Pro Tip: When new clients ask us how to sell on Rakuten Japan during the initial phase of their market entry, we generally recommend that they start first on Amazon before later moving onto Rakuten when they’re ready. Spreading yourself too thinly across both platforms from the start can diminish your overall potential for results. And even dropping down a few positions in search results can have a devastating impact on the sales you make.

Dropping down a few positions in Rakuten search results can have a devastating impact on the sales you make.

See Our 5 Insider Tips for Meeting Your Sales Targets in Japan

Treat Rakuten Differently to Amazon

How to sell on Rakuten Japan - vending machine vs. virtual shopping mall concept

Several things make Rakuten a whole different beast to Amazon. And chief among these is the platform’s virtual shopping mall model.

Rather than competing against other products and brands on the initial search page alone, you must also build a whole new virtual sub-store within the platform to showcase your brand and products in more depth.

So, rather than enticing shoppers to buy your products based simply on your pricing strategy, product description or reviews, you must work to create a whole shopping experience for users who want to learn more about your brand.
Where Amazon offers a kind of “vending machine” service, offering customers quick access to products that often compete on price, Rakuten provides customers with a virtual shopping mall experience where visitors can walk through the doors of their favorite brands and discover more.

While this offers the potential for you to truly impress potential customers with the power of your branding, it takes much more commitment to customize themes, layouts and marketing content to improve your conversion rates.

HB Pro Tip: Brands with lower brand recognition in Japan (or none at all) will find it harder to win over Japanese customers on Rakuten than Amazon due partly to the inherent preference for domestic brands. Failure to build could result in customers a lack of trust from customers who may.

Want Advice About How to Sell On Amazon?

How to Sell On Rakuten Japan — Parting Advice

How to sell on Rakuten Japan - company head office

The tips we’ve included above are primarily aimed at guiding brands with low brand awareness credibility in Japan. If Japanese customers are already familiar with who you are and why your products are great, you’ll have a much greater chance of succeeding on Rakuten.

Equally, if you have the financial resources and internal capacity to tackle both Rakuten and Amazon at the same time, we’re not saying you shouldn’t.

For most brands we’ve helped enter the Japanese market, the truth is that it’s best to exercise a good level of caution before attempting to sell your products through Rakuten. Success is possible with the right products and marketing strategy, but finding success first on Amazon with its lower barrier to entry for Western companies is usually the smarter choice when you’re deciding on your first ecommerce platform for Japan.

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