What is Rakuten and how does this company do against Amazon Japan? These are the two main questions I answer in this primer:
The term “e-commerce” still lacks a universally valid definition, but even if you just bundle B2B and B2C transactions under it, it’s a multi-trillion dollar business globally. Last year, Nielsen found [PDF] 86% of the global web population made an online purchase already (North America: 92%). For the US alone, B2C sales are expected to grow from $130 billion this year to over $200 billion by 2013 (excluding travel).
In North America, Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the B2C arena – by very, very far. After the US launch in 1995, the company quickly established separate websites in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, and Japan. But although Amazon wins in Canada and Europe, things are not going as well in Asia. In China (where Amazon started offering a localized site in 2004), it practically gets destroyed by local player Taobao [CN]. Traffic-wise, Amazon gets dwarfed by a local e-commerce site in Japan, too: Rakuten.
Amazon is active in Japan for a good reason: In its last report [JP, PDF], the Japanese government said the country’s online B2C sector grew by 21.7% to over $55 billion in 2007 on a year-on-year basis. (Note: Statistics from different sources can vary widely because of totally different methods of measurement. The Japanese numbers, for examples, do include travel.)
– read the rest of my case study on TechCrunch: