Rakuten to launch Singapore shopping site before 2013 ends

Rakuten Singapore 590

Rakuten Singapore’s landing page.

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten will be launching a Singapore website in Q4 2013, the company told SGE. While Rakuten is already shipping to Singapore, the new site will cater to local shopping preferences.

It will sell Japanese-related books, games, house items, electronics, toys, sports and fashion. The Singapore site will also offer the Rakuten Super Points rewards program, where customers can earn loyalty points with each order.

The decision to launch in Singapore was made because residents form a high percentage of Asian customers for Rakuten Global Market, the company’s international site. It also found that there is high demand for Japanese products in the city-state.

According to a Rakuten spokesperson, fashion items appear to be residents’ favorite Japanese products, followed by toys and watches.

Raketen has been very busy on the international stage lately. In the US, it snapped up a bunch of e-commerce sites, acquired logistics company Webgistix, and invested in Pinterest.

Here in Asia, it announced a USD 10M startup fund, set up a regional headquarters in Singapore, and launched online stores — both partnerships and solo efforts — in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Globally, the e-commerce landscape is getting increasingly competitive. A lot is at stake: Amazon made USD 61B in revenues last year, China’s Alibaba generated USD 170B in sales, while Rakuten registered USD 4.65B. All three still pale in comparison to Walmart, which came in at USD 447B last year, which means e-commerce still has much room for growth.

While Singapore is a small country with only 5.18M residents, it is viewed as an attractive online retail market due to its high per-capita spending as well as strong web and mobile penetration.

E-commerce players recognize this, resulting in the landscape heating up in the past year, with the likes of Rocket Internet, Qoo10, Anchanto and ShopAbout clamoring for the consumer wallet. Taobao ads can be seen on the taxis.

Rakuten’s approach to each country varies. Its foray into Indonesia involved a joint venture with MNC Group. Although the partnership didn’t appear to end well, Rakuten’s Belanja Online website will continue to operate.

In Singapore, it is engaging the developer community as its main outreach. The company organized a Rakuten Startup Challenge (disclaimer: SGE was paid to promote the contest) where participants were taught how to create online stores using its API.

John Lau, one of the finalists, found that the Challenge balanced technical and business aspects of building a startup — very different from other competitions and hackathons in the region.

He hopes that the API would be able to better cater to diverse languages in the future.

The top three competitors have been selected, and they are now being heavily promoted through a ‘Kawaii Challenge’ where members of the public can win prizes through the most creative Facebook comments.

The contest will be a lead-in to the Singapore website’s unveiling before the year ends.

Read: An inside look at Rakuten’s expansion and investment plans for wider Asia

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