Fabien Versavau, CEO & President of Rakuten France
A tenth birthday is special. No longer a little kid, a second-decade teenage growth spurt approaches. Innate traits and talents are clearly visible, ready to blossom and mature.
For Rakuten France, which last month turned 10 years old, it’s the perfect description.
We are the child of a happy marriage of French and Japanese business excellence. Our French founders launched PriceMinister.com and grew it into the flagship of French e-commerce. From the start, we partnered with local brands and promoted French culture, focusing on products such as books, video games and CDs.
In 2010, we became part of Japan’s e-commerce leader, Rakuten – beginning our next great phase. Japan and France share much in common. Both societies take great pride in quality and craftsmanship. They love fine food and fashion. They value authenticity and tradition – while embracing and improving modern technology.
As Rakuten-PriceMinister expanded, we moved into the former department store “Au Reaumur” in central Paris in May 2014. From an online site which connected buyers and sellers of cultural products, we’ve grown in France to employ 450 people and offer Rakuten Kobo e-books, Rakuten Viber messaging, and Rakuten TV video on demand. Our original e-commerce “shopping mall” now hosts more than 8,000 retailers from all categories (high-tech, home, clothing and more) and receives 17 million monthly visitors.
In 2018, we took the name Rakuten France. While PriceMinister remained one of France’s strongest brands, the opportunity to benefit from Rakuten’s FC Barcelona sponsorship and the growth of a united Rakuten brand made it important to become part of the global story. 10 years after becoming part of the Rakuten Group, more and more French people recognize the Japanese brand and now Rakuten is a definitive part of the French business landscape.
Today, France has become Rakuten’s third largest market presence, after our home country of Japan and the United States, and our largest in Western Europe. France’s e-commerce market is robust, marked by dynamic competition and gigantic potential. In 2019, more than 40 million French bought EUR 100 billion worth of goods online from more than 200,000 vendors, up 14% from the year before. This growth was accelerating even before the pandemic hit.
When the lockdown closed physical stores, Rakuten France responded with a series of innovations allowing store owners to move their activities online. Our core mission to empower retail is more meaningful than ever. And because many businesses were still behind in digital transformation, we met the strong demand by mobilizing our teams to respond and provide more responsive training.
Our E-Commerce Consultants simplified onboarding and supported new merchants in creating catalogs and configuring personalized stores, thanks to a free e-learning platform developed in only a few days time to help them swiftly generate their first online sales. We also offered subscriptions with no time commitments and low commission rates. The response has been overwhelming and positive: Since March, the number of applications for merchant accounts are up more than 40% year-on-year.
We believe that brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce can thrive together. Our click and collect solution allows consumers to purchase items online and pick them up an hour later in-store. Rakuten is a unique marketplace in France to offer this alternative to delivery: The solution drives in-store traffic, essential for our merchants, and essential to maintaining our vibrant city centers.
Since its launch in 2018 with 140 Boulanger stores, more than 5,000 stores have adopted this innovative formula. Some 72% of click and collect customers make an additional purchase in stores. Click and collect accounts now for 30% of Rakuten France’s revenues and this share keeps growing. This initiative was particularly highlighted during our second lockdown. Thanks to this option, we were able to allow merchants to introduce their stores to a new audience and maintain contact with regular customers.
Rakuten France depends on partnerships. We don’t compete against our merchants. We don’t sell ourselves. We help our merchants sell. More than 8,000 retailers, brands and local stores work with us. They range from giant nationwide retail chains to mom and pop shops.
We are the only French e-commerce platform to offer branded shops. Each merchant, among France’s most trusted retailers, including Boulanger, Gilbert and Micromania, can run e-shops on our platform.
But we are just as proud of our partnerships with private sellers. Half the sales at Rakuten France are second-hand used products, bringing more than half a billion euros to our members.
This consumer-to-consumer (C2C) sector makes us a key player in the French circular economy, supporting the environment. We estimate that this secondhand marketplace saves 23 tons of C02 – or the equivalent of 16,000 flights from Paris to New York each year.
Consumer satisfaction remains a key guiding principle. Our Club R loyalty program counts eight million French members, who benefit from points earning them at least 5% reductions. It charges no fees and does not require long-term subscriptions.
On our 10th birthday, it’s time to celebrate these achievements. It’s also time to look ahead and prepare for the next decade of innovation.
About the Author
Fabien Versavau has spent 15 years in the digital field, starting his career at Ford and then Renault. Fabien became Director of European Development at LeGuide.com and SNCF Voyages International. From 2011 to 2016, he held the position of Digital Marketing Director at Le Figaro and, at the same time, Managing Director of Ticketac.com, with the aim of developing digital and e-commerce activities. In 2016, he joined Rakuten France as Deputy Managing Director and fully contributed to the adaptation of the group’s global strategy, including the loyalty program launch in France. He became CEO of Rakuten France in 2018.