Five years since hitting the streets, Japan’s favorite code payment app is more convenient — and more deeply integrated with Rakuten’s growing ecosystem of fintech services — than ever after a recent major upgrade.
The Rakuten Pay app for customers was launched in 2016 to allow users to shop at physical stores using nothing but a bar or QR code displayed on their smartphones. Rakuten Pay has since grown alongside the code payment industry and can now be used at all of Japan’s major convenience stores, as well as tens of thousands of restaurants and other retail locations around the country.
Same simplicity, more flexibility
The app’s popularity started in part from its unique mix of simplicity and flexibility. For example, when shoppers open the app, they are immediately greeted with a freshly generated code they can use to pay at the register. Shops can then scan the shopper’s QR code to pay any amount they choose.
Five years on, the app retains this intuitive simplicity, while adding a number of highly popular features. While shoppers have always been able to set their Rakuten Points (which recently reached a cumulative 2.5 trillion issued) balance as their primary source of funds, the team is continuing efforts to provide the most flexible experience possible.
In 2019, Rakuten Point Card and Rakuten Edy functionality were successfully integrated. Then in 2020 the app enabled charging and payments using Suica, the IC card-based transportation e-money operated by JR East.
Both the Rakuten Point Card and Rakuten Edy services also started life as physical cards which shoppers would show at physical stores to earn or spend Rakuten Points or Edy e-money. Their inclusion in the Rakuten Pay app allowed shoppers to fire up and use the Rakuten Pay app even at retail locations that are not yet signed up with Rakuten Pay.
The integration of Suica, meanwhile, was the first time Rakuten Pay had expanded beyond the Rakuten Ecosystem. Those familiar with Japan will know Suica as the train card issued at Japan Rail stations around the country, which can also be charged and used for shopping at many retail locations.
This bold new inclusion not only significantly boosted the number of Rakuten Pay shopping locations, but also turned the app into a viable tool for navigating Japan’s public transportation.
Last year, the Rakuten Pay team made yet another stride forward: In 2021, shoppers became able to make payments directly from their Rakuten Bank accounts.
While such functionality may seem a given in many places around the world, direct debit payments are surprisingly rare in cash-conscious Japan. The move was made possible by Rakuten’s robust fintech ecosystem, something the team has taken further advantage of in recent months.
Payments, and beyond!
Until now, the new functions built into Rakuten Pay have largely revolved around payment transactions. More recently, this has expanded to include much more than just cashless payments: The team wants to make Rakuten Pay a viable tool for even more situations in customers’ financial lives.
Today, open the Rakuten Pay app and you will find that you can scroll down to find easy access to a number of Rakuten financial services.
One icon takes you to Rakuten Check, a service through which shoppers can earn Rakuten Points simply by “checking in” to the physical store they’re visiting. Another icon takes users to Rakuten Pasha, through which shoppers can snap photos of their receipts to earn Rakuten Points after payments. Others enable quick check-in for golf reservations through Rakuten GORA, or bring up collections of coupons for nearby physical stores.
But perhaps most convenient of all are the quick access links to users’ Rakuten Bank and Rakuten Card accounts. The team used deep linking to send users straight to their account pages in the relevant apps, from where they can carry out more complex management tasks, such as changing where the funds for an already-completed Rakuten Pay transaction should come from.
When integrating this broader portfolio of financial services with the Rakuten Pay app, the team was aware that the needs of users looking to make speedy payments at the register differed from those looking to manage their finances through the Rakuten Bank and Rakuten Card apps. Both Rakuten Bank and Rakuten Card have highly advanced apps that have undergone many generations of improvements. That’s why the decision was made to use deep linking technology to provide customers with easy access to their financial accounts.
A quest for convenience
Fast becoming an indispensable part of the convenience store experience, it’s little wonder that the Rakuten Pay team is focused primarily on exactly that: convenience. They don’t intend to stop looking for new value in this space — and they refuse to limit themselves to code payments in their mission to offer a service that is the first choice of both merchants and shoppers.
Having recently announced a year of effectively free service for new small and medium-sized merchants, it looks like Rakuten Pay has both sides covered. The hope now is that people will take the opportunity to try out all of these new services for themselves and experience the added convenience Rakuten Pay brings.