Only 2 million visitors – “Japan’s Amazon” failed in Germany
Stand: 4:30 a.m. | Reading time: 4 minutes
With Rakuten, one of the world’s largest online marketplaces is pulling out of Germany at a time when the industry is booming. But why did the internationally successful player fail? One reason is likely to be the misjudgment of local customers.
EFor the first time in the history of German online trading, a digital marketplace is completely withdrawn from business. “It was a pleasure for us” – this is how the online marketplace Rakuten writes a note on its website with which every user is made aware of the imminent end these days. From October 15, no new orders will be accepted, it says there.
Whether the initial formula is meant seriously or is due to Japanese politeness remains an open question. The attempt to gain a foothold in German online retail is unlikely to have been enjoyable at any time for the Tokyo-based company.
In the nine years since entering the market by taking over the then start-up Tradoria.de, the company has never succeeded in developing a sufficiently high level of persuasiveness for potential users.
The timing of the exit is surprising, because these are the golden times for online marketplaces. Your offer to provide external retailers with services from online presentation to payment processing to storage and delivery is in greater demand than ever before.
Driven by closures and conditions for stationary retail, sales in e-commerce in Germany rose by 16.2 percent in the second quarter, according to the industry association. Experts are almost unanimously predicting a permanent shift of consumption to the Internet for the future as well.
What nobody knows, nobody uses
According to the latest interim report, Rakuten was able to benefit from the exceptionally friendly environment worldwide with an increase in sales of 48 percent in e-commerce – but not significantly in Germany. The Japanese have not been able to firmly anchor their brand in the minds of German online shoppers.
“Rakuten didn’t make a name for itself because the customers couldn’t see any benefit for themselves,” said Mark Steier, long-time observer of the scene and operator of the “Wortfilter” blog. Ultimately responsible are management errors and a management culture that is unsuitable for European standards: “Classically Japanese, strictly from top to bottom,” says Steier.
Because of this, the attempt to build a digital ecosystem similar to Amazon, in which customers move in a cosmos of shopping, TV and gaming offers and payment services, failed in this country.
The management apparently overestimated the Germans’ passion for gaming, and many users found the system of discount points difficult to understand. The interest remained correspondingly low.
According to Steier, the monthly number of visitors to the Rakuten website has so far been just two million this year. For comparison: According to the figures, the Real marketplace has 23 million visitors, Ebay 240 million and Amazon up to 500 million visitors a month.
Some divisions continue
Still – the exit must have been preceded by a quick decision. Only at the end of 2019 did the company start a campaign that played with its low profile. Title: “Hi, we are Rakuten” – as if the brand wanted to re-introduce itself to the German market after eight years.
The group had already phased out smaller European e-commerce marketplaces in Austria, Great Britain and Spain three years earlier. In Germany, the company now says it wants to concentrate on business areas with better growth prospects.
The Club R open sales platform is to continue to operate. The business with the Tolino e-book reader will also remain unaffected by the end of the marketplace, as will the television offerings from Rakuten TV. The employees affected by the closure of the marketplace are to receive severance payments and help in finding a new job. The last orders would be processed according to plan.
The Tokyo-based group is perhaps better known in Germany for its role as the shirt sponsor of the FC Barcelona soccer club than for its marketplace. Behind the name Rakuten – which can be translated as “optimism” – is one of the largest listed companies in Japan with more than 1.2 billion customers and a turnover of around 8.8 billion euros.
Its shares are listed on the Japanese technology exchange Jasdaq, where the company is among the top ten. The business areas include the Viber mobile communications service as well as electricity contracts, music streaming, financial services and language learning services.