What does 25 years of Japanese e-commerce look like?

2022 marks 25 years since Rakuten Ichiba first opened its virtual doors. In celebration of this milestone, the Rakuten Ichiba team sifted through decades of e-commerce data to help visualize this achievement and provide some intriguing insights into Japan’s online retail landscape.

Rakuten Ichiba launched in 1997 with just 13 shops, posting only 320,000 yen (around $2,800 USD) in sales during its first month online. Today, the platform is home to some 56,000 merchants offering over 360 million items. This tremendous growth has contributed to a recent major milestone: Rakuten Group’s annual gross merchandise sales for domestic e-commerce* reached record highs for 2021, surpassing five trillion yen (around $40 billion USD) for the first time in the company’s 25-year history.

With so many items to choose from, what are shoppers buying? Rakuten Ichiba is a popular destination for bulk purchases of everyday goods such as rice, mineral water, toilet paper and other items too cumbersome to lug home from the supermarket. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend even further as more shoppers head online for their groceries.

But perhaps the stars of the Rakuten Ichiba show are its gourmet offerings. In addition to unique regional treats from all over Japan, the platform is a paradise for lovers of sake, wine and beer, who can explore an expansive catalog covering everything from boutique local brews to internationally-recognized luxury brands.

The highly customizable nature of Rakuten Ichiba’s storefronts make it a popular platform for fashion merchants to show off their unique and varied catalogs. It’s easy to get lost in the playground of Rakuten Ichiba’s virtual clothing racks, rummaging through shoes, bags, clothes and plenty more. Local designs, international brands, handmade accessories, second-hand garments and high fashion — chances are, at least one of Rakuten’s approx. 40 million fashion items is exactly what you’re looking for.

Home appliances are another big category for Rakuten Ichiba, and basic electronics like vacuum cleaners and microwaves are always in demand. But recent data is suggesting that — perhaps in part due to the pandemic — shoppers are investing more in spicing up their home-life, seeking out niche kitchen appliances like low-temperature cooking devices, electric pressure cookers and food processors.

Not every item you’ll find on Rakuten Ichiba is what you might call a “typical” online purchase. One shopper purchased a watch for nearly 40 million yen, while around 350 people have jumped on the opportunity to fulfill their home sauna dreams — yet another way to spice up life at home!

Rakuten Ichiba offers a selection of around 28 million products ranging from pickled seafood to Hokkaido cheesecake. Shoppers can narrow down and search for their favorable items by 47 prefectures using a search function in Rakuten Ichiba.

Rakuten Ichiba also supports Japan’s innovative Furusato Nozei (“hometown tax”) program, through which shoppers can make tax-deductible donations to specific Japanese prefectures and municipalities and receive thank-you hampers of local goodies in return. Around 1,400 local governments are registered to Rakuten Ichiba’s Hometown Tax portal, offering a selection of gourmet, grocery, traditional crafts, travel coupons and many other local products.

Rakuten Points have been a staple of the Rakuten Ichiba experience for most of the platform’s existence. Shoppers earn a base rate of one loyalty point (worth one yen) per 100 yen spent, but this rate can be doubled, tripled, even multiplied up to 40 times during special limited time events and depending on what other Rakuten services a customer uses. As of 2021, Rakuten has issued a staggering total of over 2.5 trillion points — equivalent to around $23 billion USD.

Last, but certainly not least, Earth Mall with Rakuten: This site is a gateway to all of the sustainable products Rakuten Ichiba has to offer, and its curated selection numbers some 138,000 items ranging from fair trade coffee and free range dairy products to handmade ethical jewelry and organic cat food. In 2021, the site saw sales increase by a factor of four compared to the previous year.

Editor’s Note: *Domestic e-commerce GMS = Combined transaction amount for Rakuten Ichiba, Rakuten Travel (GTV on checkout basis), Rakuten Books, Rakuten Books network, Rakuten Kobo (domestic), golf business, Rakuten Fashion, Rakuten Dream businesses, Rakuten Beauty, Rakuten Delivery, Rakuten 24 and other first-party daily necessities shops, auto business, Rakuma, Rakuten Rebates, Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper, cross border trading, etc. Excludes some tax-exempt businesses, includes consumption tax.

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