This year may not have turned out the way we expected, but that doesn’t mean it was without its bright spots. In fact, 2020 may well go down as one of the most important periods in Rakuten’s history — one that saw the company reach exciting new milestones, empower digital transformation across a range of industries and make mobile history with the full-scale launch of the world’s first fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network.
Before the calendar resets and we move forward with optimism into the new year, here are some of Rakuten Today’s top stories from the past twelve months.
The Rakuten Mobile revolution
2020 was the year that Rakuten Mobile became a telco to watch around the globe. The mobile innovator became Japan’s fourth mobile network operator, launching its full-scale commercial 4G service in April and then 5G less than six months later. The company’s world-first technology, visionary partnerships and consumer-first pricing have already begun to disrupt Japan’s mobile industry.
New grad training goes virtual
Every year, the first business day in April marks the start of millions of young people’s careers across Japan. Normally, like most Japan-based businesses, Rakuten would welcome the majority of its new workforce with a large introduction ceremony and an address from the CEO. This year, however, Rakuten did things a little differently. Mickey Mikitani still spoke to the roughly 700 new recruits, but attendees joined from the comfort of their own homes, including the CEO himself, signaling a big shift in both Rakuten’s and Japan’s working cultures.
Rakuten awards two trillion points
Cashless payments are becoming the standard in Japan, and point programs are playing an important role in the new shift in consumer shopping habits. It took 15 years for Rakuten’s flagship loyalty program to award its first trillion points, yet little more than three years later, Rakuten awarded its second trillionth point in 2020. Here’s what has happened since 2017 to lead to such incredible acceleration for Rakuten’s point program.
Drones prove their versatility
Over the past several years, Rakuten Today has consistently covered the incredible progress Rakuten Drone has made, both on the ground and in the air in its efforts to provide innovative logistics solutions. In 2020, Rakuten proved the potential held by drones to solve logistics challenges in Japan’s many mountainous regions with these record-setting test deliveries a mile in the skies above Mt. Shirouma at Hakuba, a prime winter sports destination for those seeking Japan’s famous powder snow.
Rakuten TV scores big with original sports documentaries
People around the world spent more time than ever enjoying entertainment from home this year. For sports fans, this meant plenty of opportunities to take in Rakuten TV’s growing lineup of original sports films. In The Unexpected Hero – Andrés Iniesta, the Vissel Kobe star and FC Barcelona legend overcomes personal tragedy to become one of the most successful and influential footballers in history. Tennis enthusiasts in particular were inspired by Rafael Nadal and his Davis Cup teammates in the documentary Break Point. With Rakuten TV now available in 42 European markets plus Japan, Rakuten Today is glad to know a growing global audience will have the opportunity to enjoy these and more original films from Rakuten TV.
New Rakuten Fashion initiatives
In its first year as title sponsor of Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, Rakuten launched two initiatives aimed at both established and emerging fashion brands — Rakuten Fashion Luxury and the “by R” project. This dual strategy represents a bold approach to winning over more of the world’s top luxury brands while raising the profile of Japan’s up-and-coming designers.
Take me out to the ball game? Robots in the stands in Taiwan
2020 marked the first season under the Rakuten banner for Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) team Rakuten Monkeys. They quickly established themselves as one of the league’s most innovative and entertaining teams when they introduced lifelike robot mannequins and cardboard cutouts as stand-in spectators at their games. This trailblazing solution was picked up by media around the world, inspiring other global sports leagues to get creative with their own re-openings.
Big anniversaries for Rakuten France and Viber
2010 was a massive year for Rakuten. Not only did the company announce that it would formally change its internal language from Japanese to English, but it also welcomed Rakuten France (formerly PriceMinister) into the Rakuten family of companies. That same year, Viber launched and swiftly rose to the top of app stores worldwide. Fast forward 10 years to 2020 where both Rakuten France and Rakuten Viber found unique ways to celebrate their special milestones.
FC Barcelona brings fans into the big picture
Just as the Rakuten Monkeys introduced an innovative crowd solution, FC Barcelona came up with a unique way to make their fans part of the experience — even if they weren’t able to attend matches in-person. To celebrate the start of the 2020-21 season, Rakuten and FC Barcelona presented a 47.7m x 9.6m mosaic image of five of the club’s top stars on the main facade of Barca’s home stadium, Camp Nou. The image itself was stunning, but as is so often the case, it’s the little details that count: The mosaic was composed of 46,000 crowdsourced photos of Barca’s biggest fans.
Club Rakuten brings Japanese-style points program to Europe
Inspired by Rakuten’s popular points program in Japan, Club Rakuten was launched to bring together Rakuten’s existing U.K. brands (Rakuten TV, Rakuten Kobo and Rakuten Viber) with more than 250 retail and experience partners to create a robust, customer-centric membership rewards program unlike any other in Europe.
Rakuten Viki brings fans together with Watch Parties
Two of Rakuten Viki’s biggest strengths have always been its content and its community. And in an era of social distancing, technologies that bring people together have never been more valued. Perhaps this is why the innovative Watch Party feature that Viki introduced in 2020 has been so popular, helping to drive some of its best numbers Viki has ever seen.
With 2020 now in the books, we can look back on the year with clarity and gratitude — gratitude for the challenges we’ve been able to overcome and for the promising future ahead of us.
To all of our readers, thank you for your support this year and best wishes for 2021!