Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.

I believe we can all use a little optimism right now. This is one of the reasons I decided to name our new conference in San Francisco “Optimism.” It is more than just the root of our name, it is our outlook on the future.

It is natural sometimes to look at the challenges we face around us and feel overwhelmed. I hear it all the time in the retail industry, as merchants look at the internet giants around them and wonder if competition is even possible. They say to me: ‘what will they do to our business?’

But we should not think that way. We did not invite everyone to San Francisco to have a “pessimism conference.” Instead, we are focused on how we can evolve to empower the next stage of retail. And there is much to be optimistic about.

When I started my company 22 years ago, it was not an easy launch. In the beginning, we had only 13 customers. It was a difficult time. But I never gave up because I wanted to help and I had a vision for the future. I wanted these merchants to be successful in their next stage. I believed then and I still do now that the internet is here to empower, not to destroy. 

The key, I have learned over the years, is to work out how we can help.

Back in those early days, we provided help in very practical ways. We helped merchants to set up their websites. Sometimes, we even helped them buy their first computers. And our first monthly sales were a grand total of $2,900 dollars. Since we really didn’t have too many customers, most of that actually came from my own pocket.

Now, in this next stage of retail, we are here to offer a new kind of help. I call it: Rakuten Merchant Cloud.

With our global experience, data and technology backing the Merchant Cloud, we will help our customers to take the next step. Our customers may be retailers, restaurateurs or in mobility or finance. They may be small, medium or large in scale. Some will want to use all that we have to offer. Others will only need some of the services. But we will be ready to help as needed.

The Rakuten Merchant Cloud has a number of key components:

Rakuten Merchant CloudRakuten Merchant Cloud: The key components

Traffic/Content: How can we keep sending traffic to you? We can draw on many parts of our ecosystem to generate traffic and customize strategies for the needs of our clients – with properties such as the leading cash back site Ebates, the affiliate leader Rakuten Marketing, the global membership base of over one billion members, and the support of our content platforms such as Rakuten Kobo and Rakuten TV.

Data/AI: If you want to compete in today’s marketplace, you need to know who is buying what and how, and why they may not be buying from you. We are one of the few companies that can offer services based on robust, holistic data. We know the value of this data – I used it myself to decide to invest in Lyft. When I looked at the Rakuten Intelligence data, I could see how Millennials in San Francisco were using Lyft. I could see the potential for growth. Data and intelligence are what helps us make good decisions. We are already using tools in Japan that offer marketing solutions using AI-driven data analysis to help retailers better understand shopper patterns and needs.

Expertise: Because of our existing businesses and our leading position in industries from commerce to online travel to fintech in Japan, we have an enormous depth of expertise and knowledge that we can draw on to offer you proven best-in-class services. We can also draw on the labs that are known as the Rakuten Institute of Technology – a global R&D organization of talented engineers that bridges the world of academic research and business with creative innovation and solutions.

Tools: There are many decisions today that can be made more effectively with the use of cutting-edge tools. Pricing is a good example – while a human touch is important when it comes to service, when it comes to pricing, you need AI. For example, we have a tool for optimum price calculation that can help a retailer make timely and pinpointed decisions on pricing, aimed at driving the topline and improving profitability.

Logistics: Why are the current internet giants so strong? One reason is logistics. That’s why logistics is part of the merchant cloud vision. We are working on a variety of projects to help retailers with logistics – we are developing One Delivery, in Japan initially, to give customers more end-to-end control, visibility and competitive price and location options for delivery. In the United States, we recently acquired Curbside, a platform that provides unique cloud-based location technology to empower retailers to offer their customers options for store pickup and other new ways to engage.  And we won’t stop there. We are already exploring new channels – with drones in the air and autonomous ships on the sea.

FinTech/Payment: Rakuten card is the No. 1 credit card in Japan, with a global gross transaction value of over US$57 billion, and it’s only ten years since launch. A crucial part of our success has been our focus on fintech innovation. It is a natural extension of our business to provide payment options. And, with the development of blockchain, this space is beginning to get very interesting. We are working toward launching our own cryptocurrency, with the recent acquisition of a company prepping to be an official exchange in Japan, which would enable even more global payment service options for our clients and partners.

Finally, let me cover how we are looking for ways to help the world understand our brand. We have partnered with basketball’s Golden State Warriors and soccer’s FC Barcelona. We have refreshed our logo and are working on bringing our companies together under one brand umbrella. Our new logo incorporates the Japanese character for “one” – and that means a lot of things to us. One of the most important things is our ambition to be as one with our partners and customers – to ensure your success.

There will always be challenges. But true challenges are the ones that inspire us to disrupt and to innovate. We must face them with optimism.


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