Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten has kicked off an online marketplace for Play.com in the UK. The launch, unveiled last month, lets retailers create their own-branded e-shops within the Play.com website.
Rakuten’s marketing director Adam Stewart, pictured right, took the time to speak with new media age to explain the ecommerce giant’s plans for evolving the marketplace into a content ecosystem in the UK and further afield as well as its benefits for third party merchants.
How does the UK launch of Marketplace fit with your overall digital strategy?
The Rakuten business within Japan itself already has a powerful Marketplace model, which is all focused on empowering the merchant. It does so providing merchants with the tools and marketing functionalities to develop relationships with their own consumers. It’s a win-win-win model, which is very different to the competition - it means the merchants’ success is Rakuten’s success as well as the consumers.
Some of our competitors operate more like a vending machine, giving you [merchants] a very templated format, but Rakuten’s model is centred on the notion that shopping is entertainment. We want to produce more product and content discovery for consumers. It’s about how we engage a customer with insight and content to enrich their shopping experience - that content element is key to developing long lasting relationships between the merchant and the consumer.
Would you ever consider launching your own video-on-demand (VOD) service?
Rakuten Group acquired Spanish VOD service Wuaki.tv earlier this year and we are in initial conversations with them as a group. We sell a lot of physical DVDs and Blu-rays, and so for now we will focus on landing the Marketplace model, but i’m sure in future there will be conversations about how we utilise that VOD service in the UK and elsewhere.
How are you planning to evolve the marketplace model and what are the benefits for merchants?
Rakuten’s place is to provide the tools and marketing to empower merchants, and this includes our loyalty scheme Super Points, launched on Play.com in August this year. This lets merchants create campaigns or collections of products with a multiplier on it. For example they can create lists of 5 or 100 products, then put a multiplier on it which allows them to give a higher profile campaign. One Super Point is worth 1p, therefore if a customer buys a £100 product they will receive £1’s worth of points which they can burn elsewhere in the Play.com marketplace. If they buy that product froma a merchant they can add a multiplier, the consumer will get double the amount of points.
As we build an ecosystem in the UK with other businesses we will look to replicate that points system throughout. In Japan there are 40 different business units around the ecommerce site - all of which are connected by the same loyalty scheme. The Marketplace is a key step in building our UK ecosystem strategy.
What market challenges does the Marketplace ecosystem help smaller retailers overcome?
Many of the smaller retailers would need a sizeable investment to get a website on their own, whereas setting up a stall and setting up their own branded shops within Rakuten is very easy. We have supplied them with a tool box to help them translate their brand into their own-branded e-shop fronts. We want there to be a lot of creative freedom on that front, and don’t just want their shop fronts too look like templates. We will be looking at introducing additonal functionalities including the ability to upload video trailers to their stores.
Merchants don’t want to be treated like they are just such, but rather as personal businesses. We give each merchant a personal ecommerce consultant (ECC) who help them set up their stores, use the functionalites, while advising how to grow their business as a whole. They are on call constantly to help advise them and that personal touch is a real differentiator.
What advertising opportunities may there be in future for Marketplace?
We have started an Ad Sales process where merchants can purchase inevtory or real estate within the ‘shopping mall’ to drive more traffic to their own shop fronts. They can buy banners on a catergory page for example, buy inventory in our shopping mall emails, and also get exposure on search terms, so if someone types in Harry Potter on the site, there will be a small piece of real estate they can purchase beneath the search tool box. We haven’t looked at thrid party advertising but it is an opportunity we might look at in future.
What part will personalisation play when you evolve the platform?
Personalisation is key to our strategy. We have a number of different initiatives to increase conversions and use multiple targeting tools, including display or email, to drive traffic, and ensure our campaigns are personally relevant. Everything is centred on data-driven marketing - we then take insight from our data to ensure we are bettering the customer experience as a whole whether it’s pre or post sale.