Much to the delight of shoppers in Singapore, Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten decided to launch its offerings in the city-state last December. Interestingly, however, Singapore was not Rakuten’s first destination in Southeast Asia.

Masaya Ueno, Head of Business Development Division, Rakuten Asia

Masaya Ueno, Head of Business Development Division, Rakuten Asia

In 2012, Rakuten arrived in Malaysia. Since then, it has seen tremendous growth. According to Masaya Ueno, Head of Business Development Division, Rakuten Asia, there has been an almost nine-fold growth in the number of products. Additionally, there is a 25 per cent month-on-month growth in terms of the number of members on the platform.

“Similar to their counterparts across the causeway, Malaysians are also online shopaholics, with a quarter of the population shopping online at least once a week,” he said.

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Singapore was not its second destination either. In June 2013, Rakuten launched its localised site in Indonesia. Rakuten Belanja Online has seen a 152 per cent year-on-year increase in revenue.

A large part of its growth in the largest Southeast Asian country can be attributed to Rakuten’s mobile presence and how mobile-centric the market is. “… mobile shopping is more about entertainment and less about filling a list,” he added.

Mobile shopping is not just popular in Indonesia. In Thailand, for example, Rakuten sees about 50 per cent of all traffic come from mobile devices.

After setting up a physical and online presence in those countries, Rakuten finally launched its marketplace platform in Singapore. It also chose Singapore as the location for its regional headquarters. The country’s status as an ‘Asian hub’ also allows Rakuten to interact with its teams and partners in the region.

Marketing in Singapore
Even though Rakuten is relatively well-known in Singapore, the e-commerce website still has to reach out to potential shoppers. Ueno told e27 that the firm has used a combination of above-the-line and below-the-line advertising across various channels, including social media and e-mail marketing.

Its team has also come up with popular promotions like:

  • Lunch-time specials: a two-hour lunch-time flash sales on selected days of the week, when merchants offer discounts on selected products
  • Online exclusives: Exclusive online-only product sales that are not available at retail outlets.
  • Trial Sets: Special trial food sets for customers to sample new products

Going forward
As of June 2014, Rakuten Singapore’s site has seen a four-fold increase in the number of members, said Ueno, adding that there are a total of 180 local and Japanese merchants on the website.

In the next four months, Singaporeans can look forward to a greater variety of products from local and Japanese merchants. Rakuten is looking to list 300 merchants on its localised website for Singapore by end-2014.