Since launching in Taiwan in 2008, Rakuten has made no secret of its Japanese roots. Rakuten’s services are immensely popular with Japan lovers in Taiwan — and for good reason: Rakuten Travel lets you book a trip to Japan, while Rakuten Card will net you all sorts of discounts while you’re there. And when you’re back, Rakuten Ichiba is where you’ll find all those delicious Japanese goodies you encountered along the way.
But the love isn’t unrequited: In Japan, Rakuten also provides a portal for Japanese users to experience a slice of Taiwan for themselves. In recent years, cross-border shopping between the two markets has continued to grow.
So what is Taiwan buying from Japan? And what is Japan buying from Taiwan? Who better to ask than CEO of Taiwan Rakuten Ichiba, Grace Lo, who helped found the business more than a decade ago.
Noodles and diapers: Only the best from Japan
“Most people here know that Rakuten is a Japanese company,” Lo says. “Over the past few years, the team in Taiwan has utilized this ‘Japan’ image to differentiate itself from local competitors.”
Japanese quality is highly respected in Taiwan, and Taiwan’s users often turn to Rakuten to source trustworthy products.
“Products marked ‘Made in Japan’ are quite popular since people trust Japanese excellence in quality and production controls,” she explains. “So popular products include things like home appliances, beauty appliances, cosmetics, and baby products like diapers. New parents love baby products from Japan.”
Users have long been able to shop directly on the Japanese Rakuten Ichiba site and have their items shipped across to Taiwan, but the team has been working to make it even easier for users to find what they want.
“Rakuten started a trading company in 2019, focused on introducing quality products from Rakuten Ichiba in Japan,” Lo says. The program curates some of the most popular products from Japan — such as the countless varieties of instant noodles found in Japanese shops — and stocks them locally. “This way, our users can buy Japanese products without ever leaving the Taiwan marketplace.”
Pineapple cakes and bubble tea: Taiwanese sweets a hit in Japan
For Japanese shoppers, a nearly identical system is in place — in reverse. “Some Japanese users shop directly on Taiwan Ichiba from our merchants who ship internationally,” Lo explains. “But Taiwan Ichiba also has a shop on Japan’s Rakuten Ichiba called Taiwan Direct that offers a variety of goods from Taiwan.”
And what are Japanese users buying? “Pineapple cake is the most popular for Japanese shoppers,” Lo reports, although the platform has also recently seen strong demand for Taiwanese nougats, bubble tea and, for more adventurous eaters, fermented ‘stinky tofu.’
Japan is just the beginning
Lo and the Rakuten team are making the most of Japan’s positive image in Taiwan to strengthen the cross-border relationship even further, something that has been accelerated by the recent acquisition of Taiwanese baseball champions the Rakuten Monkeys.
“The acquisition of the Monkeys has not only enhanced our brand image but also strengthened the ‘Japan’ connection even further, since most people know Rakuten also owns a baseball team here,” Lo explains.
But Japan isn’t the only country on Lo’s mind: She wants Taiwanese shoppers to have access to a variety of goodies from around the globe. “Different markets have unique products that are appealing to global shoppers,” she says. “We want to utilize our global presence to source products from different markets and offer them to shoppers in Taiwan in an affordable and convenient way.”
With a healthy exchange of pineapple cakes, diapers, bubble tea and instant noodles, Japan and Taiwan have set a gold standard for successful cross border e-commerce.