What is Rakuten?
In 1997 Hiroshi Mikitani saw the opportunity to create an online marketplace for Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Customer (B2C) operations. Rakuten was born and has never looked back as it grows exponentially across the globe.
This is a great marketplace in its own right. It also compliments sellers who may already use another platform, such as Amazon, because you can hedge your bets and be seen in more places and reach even more customers.
We’ll be focusing on Rakuten marketplace, but there is a huge range of services offered by Rakuten - from telephones, streaming services and even their own bank!
Rakuten used to run a global marketplace (until summer 2020) when they closed it in favor of a more localized approach. This means that you can still sell in your country, but it is slightly more difficult to sell abroad.
However, much like Amazon, the majority of goods sold stay within national borders, but it is easy to set up in another country if you have business ties elsewhere.
Rakuten works to retain repeat custom by use of a loyalty points scheme called ‘Super Points Reward Programme’. Simply put, for every purchase made, points are awarded that can be redeemed by means of discount on future purchases.
The subscription method and sellers fees help to minimize the cost of these discounts (we’ll talk more about fees later).
Rakuten also offers cashback (usually 5%) to entice loyalty in the customer base.
What’s the Difference Between Amazon and Rakuten?
The main difference between how Amazon and Rakuten work is in the closed nature of Amazon and the open nature of Rakuten. In other words- Amazon handles customer service, inventory and the sales platform for the customer. Rakuten leaves inventory and customer service to the vendor and only provides a shopping platform and payment gateway.
It’s like a stripped down version of Amazon where you have more control over your logistics and inventory.
From a consumer point of view, Amazon feels more like a one-stop-shop or vending machine where your main objective is to look for your desired product, click, and buy.
Rakuten is more like a virtual mall where each seller looks and feels like a boutique or chain shop. Each store is defined so the look, feel and experience is more important to attract a sale.
Amazon also offers its own range of products (Amazon Basic) whereas Rakuten does not. So, Rakuten isn't competing with their sellers where Amazon often is.
Who Can Use Rakuten?
Technically, any merchant can use Rakuten. However, it is an invite-only platform with an application process. For example, if you are a seller in the US, you can apply here.
Outside of the USA or Japan there is not much scope to set up as a seller without a third-party partner.
If you are a seller based in any country other than Japan or the US, you will need the help of a third-party partner.
You will need to contact the approved partner in the relevant country who will deal with all your setup, admin, and operation of your store. You can do this by contacting the Support Center.
In France for example you can contact PriceMinister who can also help you to sell to neighboring countries such as Switzerland or Belgium.
For the UK approved partners such as IAB.com will do a similar job. Search for the relevant partner in your territory to get started with Rakuten.
The Main Benefits of Using Rakuten
With a number of other platforms, you do not have the opportunity to include your branding or personalize the way your store looks. But with Rakuten, you do have the option to customize your storefront a bit more.
With Rakuten, you get paid weekly, making cash flow that much easier to deal with.
Support & resources
One huge advantage of using Rakuten is the customer service and support that is provided to its merchants. They also provide great resources and training to help people make the most of the platform.
It also provides a great amount of data to help sellers understand more about their customers and what is or is not working well for them.
On any platform, it’s not just the set up that’s important to consider. It’s also about how you reach your ideal customers. A number of platforms offer paid methods of advertising products or services but Rakuten has a number of features to help you showcase your offering to the right people at the right time.
Rakuten’s top countries for customer numbers are Japan and the USA which account for the majority of the 95 million page views per month Rakuten can boast. Whilst Rakuten offer streaming services and affiliate services in Europe, they no longer have a marketplace.
R-Mail (which is Rakuten’s merchant to customer email service), is an example of the novel ways Rakuten helps their merchants to reach out to customers. This can be used to tell them about new and exciting products that may be of interest to them, offer new deals or simply to remind them about your store.
How To Get Started With Rakuten
Who can sell on Rakuten? Anyone from sole traders through small and medium size enterprises to huge brands (such as Dyson and Adidas) can sell on Rakuten.
You will need to be a registered company in either Japan or the USA to sell on those markets (which are by far the largest on Rakuten). Companies without a presence in these countries cannot become sellers unless they use a third party to act as a middle man.
Rakuten does not provide a list of approved third parties but a Google search for your country may return more useful results.
There are a few basic steps to follow and there is a huge amount of importance on how your store looks and how your product feeds work to ensure success. But other than that, there are no further barriers to a genuine seller.
To get started on Rakuten you’ll need:
- Your business name (either a company name or your own name will work)
- A manufacturing ID that you apply for. This information will be checked and corroborated by Rakuten to ensure only genuine sellers apply. When you apply to sell goods that you manufacture, Rakuten will verify them and issue you the manufacturing ID.
- Check the Rakuten website for your country to ensure you are set up correctly as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules have made it difficult to trade in the European Economic Area.
- The time - to get approval is usually about a week. But like anything in life, expect variations from as little as three days to two weeks.
- You will also be required to have products with barcodes. UPC, EAN, JAN, ISBN are all acceptable barcode formats.
Once you have been screened and approved you can list and sell your products via the four methods below:
- RMS Web tool
- FTP Feeds - File Transfer Protocol - such as CJ, Google Affiliate Network, ShareASale, LinkShare, this is a way to upload your product files to the Rakuten or third party partner website to speed up the process of inputting the data needed to list products. You can easily create such a product feed in DataFeedWatch.
- Open API - ApplicationProgramming Interface - there are several API’s specifically designed for use or compatible with Rakuten, depending on what you want to sell.
- Third party integration (Using the approved partners mentioned above)
Rakuten seller fees
Rakuten operates its sellers fees in three ways:
- There is a subscription that charge $39/mo
- a listing fee of $0.99 per item
- and a commission charge. The commission varies wildly from 8% to 20% depending on the items you sell.
There is a huge variation, so be sure to check how much your item would attract in commission fees before proceeding.
These fees go some way to clawing back at the cashback and loyalty points costs, but are still fairly prohibitive for sellers who don’t carefully curate and optimize their data feeds.
A list of commissions is included below:
Product feed specifications for Rakuten in a nutshell
You’ll need to ensure your products meet the feed requirements for seamless selling on Rakuten. Firstly, make sure that you are uploading the correct file format.
Rakuten prefers a Google product feed/file but also support Comma Separated (.csv), Tab Delimited (.txt & .tsv) and ZIP (.zip) files.
Make sure you have covered all the primary Attributes required:
- Google Product Category
- link and image_link
- price and sale_price
- gtin and mpn
- age group
- shipping and shipping weight
- multipack (required if applicable)
- adult (required if applicable).
Rakuten has created this handy reference guide to help you succeed in creating workable product listings.
For some items, not all attributes are required, but it is recommended that you include as many attributes as possible - as with most selling platforms.
It is an opportunity to get more keywords in your products and helps to define your products.
Optimize your product feed for Rakuten with DataFeedWatch
With DataFeedWatch you can create a product feed using a template specifically designed for Rakuten. It will help you to easily optimize various areas of your product feed. Use these tips to get started:
According to Rakuten’s specifications, your title should be 70 characters or less and be the name of your item. If your title isn’t exactly how you’d like it to be in your product feed then you can create a rule to customize it.
We decided to combine the brand, gender, and color along with what the product is and separate the two fields using a single space. Once the rule is complete, it would look something like this:
Adidas Men’s Yellow Tracksuit
Depending on what vertical you’re selling in, you might want to use different fields instead like other variants. If you need guidance, you can always look at Google’s recommended title structures.
This is where you can give some more details about the product to entice shoppers. If you already have your description how you want it in your feed, then you can create a rule like this:
But let’s say you don’t have a description already, or it’s not optimized as well as it could be. In that case, you can use a ‘combine’ rule like we did with our titles.
Now you have a beautiful description that gives more context to your listing.
Google created its own taxonomy and other channels have taken to using and supporting it like Facebook Dynamic Ads and Rakuten. It’s a thorough list of pre-set product categories. They all start with a general category and get more and more specific. Each category also is assigned a number that can be used interchangeably.
You can manually or automatically assign categories to your products, or use a combination of both. Let’s take a look at how to do each one.
Assigning categories automatically
- Choose a default category for all of your products to avoid any disapprovals.
- Choose the field that contains the information you want to base the categorization around. Here we chose ‘brand’.
- Click on ‘generate’ to create the rules.
- Type in a few letters under category to find the one that matches best.
Generate rules manually
You can also build your rules manually using DataFeedWatch, which will look like this:
Then add additional categories until all your products are covered.
GTIN and other UPIs
Your products will need to be listed with unique product identifiers (UPI) in order for your listings to be required. These include:
All 3 are required for Rakuten feeds.
If you already have them in your product feed, then creating a combine rule is the way to go. You’ll set it up like this:
Here’s a cheat sheet of what to look for in your feed depending on your location or items:
North America - UPC
Europe - EAN
Japan - JAN
Books - ISBN
If you have these attributes in your feed but they’re named differently then replace the field with that name. Here’s an example for MPN:
Price and sale_price
Every channel has their own way of referring to the normal, every day price and the price when a product is on sale. Rakuten uses one of the most typical ways. Price is how much the item usually costs and sale_price is used for temporarily discounted items.
Depending on how your product feed was generated, you may have these terms or something different. Either way, you’ll just use a rename tool to populate these fields.
And then you can create your sale_price rule:
Now if you have a discounted price present (greater than 0) it will show up. If not, the sale_price field will be left blank and only the regular price will appear.
Image links are required for your products. They’ll need to be at least 600x600pm, and you’re able to submit more than one image. In order to do that, change the attribute name to ‘image_link_x’ and replace the ‘x’ with a number.
For availability you’ll have 4 pre-set options. They are:
- In stock
- Out of stock
If your feed already uses these options then you can just create a ‘rename’ rule. Anything else in these fields will be rejected. But never fear, there’s another rule for that! It will look like this for ‘in stock’ and ‘out of stock’:
Selling on Rakuten - Pros and Cons
Rakuten has a huge market following and is certainly worth further exploration as another platform for your eCommerce store. Whilst the cost can be high (especially for smaller sellers), the market is certainly there for those willing to make it work and ensure their product feeds are handled correctly.
There are pros and cons to using it as summarized:
Advantages of using Rakuten
- Each store has the potential for a nice look and feel, and is also customizable.
- Customer experience is enhanced over Amazon.
- Loyalty points and cash back incentives are great for returning customers.
- Huge customer base. With larger numbers of users, you are increasing the number of people likely to see your products.
Disadvantages of using Rakuten
- You’ll need to be adept at managing your own inventory - whilst this does sound like a problem, it is worth thinking about how DataFeedWatch can help you with this.
- Product feed quality and optimization is hugely important and can be the making or breaking point of your store.
- The platform is quite expensive initially with the product fees, commission and subscription to pay for.
- The waiting time to be approved is not automatic.
- It is difficult to become a seller on Rakuten without a US or Japanese presence.
So there is plenty to get your teeth into, and getting started may feel daunting compared to selling on Amazon, but the rewards are there for those who dare!
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