In an interview with Reuters, Rakuten's chief said that he plans on not only moving into Europe, but to defy the European recession as he does it.
"Now Hiroshi Mikitani, or Mickey as he is known by his staff and on his business card, is trying to buck another trend: growing his brand of online shopping mall in Europe's recession-hit retail sector. 'We're very confident we'll be able to grow in any kind of (economic) circumstance,' Mikitani told Reuters in an interview. At Rakuten's websites, merchants from egg sellers to jewelers can create online shopfronts and post blogs and photos to communicate with customers, something which Mikitani hopes will give the firm an edge over rivals like e-Bay and Amazon.com, and tempt European consumers to spend. 'Of course we'll be price competitive and very efficient but more than that we'd like to create a very unique shopping experience through which we'd like to differentiate ourselves,' said Mikitani, who has an MBA from Harvard."
Resisting the urge to state the obvious (which is "You have an MBA from Harvard and you say things like 'very unique,' knowing that unique means one of a kind?"), this move has potential to shake things up, not just in Europe but in the U.S. and other regions as well. First, Rakuten has dominated Japanese E-Commerce to a point where it can't be dismissed. Secondly, it's comfort with social media could prove an effective tool, assuming it has the discipline to learn and respect local norms first. Thus far, it has indeed shown such discipline.
Also, Rakuten is much less of a stranger to Europe than many Europeans may assume. It's true that it's name-recognition is low outside Japan, but that's when strictly speaking about Rakuten. It also owns quite a few other sites—PriceMinister in France, a local version of Rakuten in Germany, Play.com in the U.K.—which is providing the site plenty of local shopper insights.
With a market capitalization equivalent to about $13 billion (it's 2012 net sales were 443.4 billion yen, which is about $4.7 billion.), it has some dollars to invest. If it can make a direct move in Europe effectively, it can shed its regional site reputation. Then the U.S. may have some concerns. Can it give Amazon meaningful trouble? Unlikely, as Amazon is no slouch in the social media world itself. Then again, anything that will distract Amazon is welcome news for brick-and-mortar chains.
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