On August 31, Rakuten reached a remarkable new milestone: 2.5 trillion Rakuten Points rewarded — a value equivalent to 2.5 trillion Japanese yen, or around US $23 billion.
So how did Rakuten Points become one of the world’s most unique and rewarding loyalty programs, delivering billions of dollars in added value to shoppers in Japan? The key lies in the program’s versatility, which provides members with the freedom to use their points for everything from buying and selling cryptocurrency to paying for a carton of eggs.
So many ways to earn, so many ways to spend
While most loyalty programs offer basic returns within a single service, Rakuten takes this idea several steps further.
Users can, of course, earn points by shopping online through Rakuten Ichiba, making a reservation through Rakuten Travel, or using many of the 70+ services Rakuten operates in Japan. However, there are no limitations on where those points are spent.
Rather, users have their pick of the entire Rakuten Ecosystem: Points earned through regular shopping with their Rakuten Card could be used to book an appointment at a fancy salon through Rakuten Beauty or order take-out sushi through Rakuten Gurunavi Delivery.
But Rakuten Points’ purchasing power doesn’t end there. Over the past five years, the program has evolved and expanded to include more and more surprising ways users can utilize their points both in and outside of the company’s services.
1. Invest your points in the stock market
Since 2018, Rakuten has allowed its members to “invest” their extra points in the stock market.
The program requires no Rakuten Securities account, just a quick set-up through the Rakuten Point Club app. Users can choose between a moderate “Balanced Course” and a more aggressive “Active Course” for their points. The funds are invested appropriately on the user’s behalf, and can be withdrawn at any time.
With so many ways to earn and so much freedom in how to spend, it’s little wonder that Rakuten’s points program is regularly named the number one loyalty points program in Japan in overall customer satisfaction.
The service is meant as a kind of “mock investment experience” so that users can get a taste for investing in the stock market without needing to use “real” money.
Since launch, the program has attracted the interest of over five million users in Japan, over half of whom are 30 or younger. Investment platform Rakuten Securities has also seen an influx of younger users — perhaps in part thanks to this fun service — recently reaching a milestone of six million accounts.
2. Buy and sell cryptocurrencies
Of course, the fintech fun doesn’t end with stocks: Since 2017, crypto asset management service Rakuten Wallet has allowed users to buy and sell cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, conveniently exchanging them to and from Japanese yen.
But yen isn’t your only ticket to ride the cryptocurrency train: Rakuten Wallet users can also use their Rakuten Points to top up their portfolio.
Earlier this year, the service sweetened the deal even further, introducing a new way for users to convert their assets back into a spendable currency. For no cost, users can now turn their Bitcoin and Ethereum into Rakuten Cash — tied to the Japanese yen and functionally similar to Rakuten Points — and use it anywhere across the Rakuten Ecosystem, invest it into the stock market, or even…
3. Go grocery shopping
Rakuten Pay has been an industry leader in smartphone QR code and barcode payments since its inception in 2016. The service allows users to shop using nothing but their smartphone screen — no proprietary hardware or fancy NFC chips necessary — simply by linking their preferred source of funds and flashing a barcode at the checkout counter.
Funds can be drawn from a credit card, bank account or — you guessed it — Rakuten Points. This means that Rakuten Points are effectively equivalent to real-world cash at any location that accepts Rakuten Pay. In Japan, that includes all major convenience stores, many supermarket chains and a wide variety of other physical stores.
4. Enjoy a nice meal
Part of Rakuten Pay’s incredible success can be attributed to the groundwork laid by e-money service Rakuten Edy and the Rakuten Point Card. For example, Rakuten has worked with countless restaurants and other small businesses for well over a decade to help them introduce their own loyalty programs in the form of Rakuten Points.
Customers can flash their Rakuten Point Card when paying the check to receive Rakuten Points, and can even use points to fully or partially pay for that very check.
Together with Rakuten Pay, shoppers and diners can use their Rakuten Points at more than five million locations across Japan.
5. Pay your credit card bill, or your cellphone bill, or your electricity bill, or…
High-profile services like Rakuten Card and Rakuten Mobile regularly make headlines around the world, but Rakuten also runs a number of smaller services supporting the everyday lives of people in Japan.
Rakuten Energy allows users to get their homes hooked up to the electricity network and earn Rakuten Points on every kilowatt-hour. Rakuten Hikari provides a similar service for fiber internet, while Rakuten TV and Rakuten Music take care of users’ entertainment needs.
It almost goes without saying that the monthly bills for all of these services can be paid either partially or in full using Rakuten Points. In the case of Rakuten Card, this means that points can be used to pay the balance for literally anything bought on credit.
With so many ways to earn and so much freedom in how to spend, it’s little wonder that Rakuten’s points program is regularly named the number one loyalty points program in Japan in overall customer satisfaction.*
*Source: “Survey on Points Systems.” Valid responses: 1,000. Online survey conducted by MyVoice Communications, Inc. in July 2020.