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

An e-commerce site is not just a neatly organized catalog of products; it can be a catalyst for engaging and enriching shopping experiences.

We launched the Rakuten marketplace 20 years ago and since then I’ve seen some competitors woo consumers with an approach that bears more similarity to an online vending machine – an experience based solely on price, speed and convenience.

Certainly, those are all good things and customers appreciate them. But they are not enough for every shopping experience. Shopping has never been just about efficiency. Sometimes you know exactly what you want and you want the fastest and cheapest way to get it, but that’s just one of many reasons we shop.

“We have never aimed to make Rakuten e-commerce marketplaces the sole interface with the customer. We need to be efficient and convenient, but we also need to be the catalyst that allows our users to discover and make their own connections.”

Shopping has always offered valuable rich, human experiences, as well as convenience and price and all those other great things. This is why we return again and again to that local clothing shop where the staff remembers our name and what we like to wear. Or the produce store where you can browse the myriad seasonal varieties, ask for advice on recipes and finally arrive on something special for the weekend dinner you’re preparing for friends. This is why we are loyal to retailers that offer us great customer service, especially when a product isn’t quite what you expected or you’re not sure how to use it. It was true when retail was only in physical shop form and it continues to be true today even as we take shopping onto new online platforms.

Since launch, we have never aimed to make Rakuten e-commerce marketplaces the sole interface with the customer. We need to be efficient and convenient, but we also need to be the catalyst that allows our users to discover and make their own connections with stores, big and small, from department stores to mom-and-pop shops. We encourage contact between merchants on the platform and shoppers and the pursuit of a special customized experience within each merchant’s offering as well.

We were the first in the world to successfully launch a marketplace that was all about B2B2C relationships, encouraging and facilitating positive interactions between shoppers and merchants, and this mission holds today. It’s the best model for achieving the right balance between standardizing the shopping experience, for the sake of convenience, and humanizing it, for enjoyment.

The truth is, today, consumers are not caught up in whether you are online or offline, at least not in the same way the retail industry is. We all need to be able to offer our shoppers a great experience.

This is the mindset that the vending-machine-style e-commerce sites miss. They miss the fact that shopping has always been a part of our lives. If shopping is not interesting or fun or engaging in some way, that takes some of the enjoyment out of our lives. Who wants that? Of course, price and convenience matter, and we’ll continue to develop AI and other new technologies to make our platform even more efficient and easy to use. But, as humans, we will still come to shopping for entertainment, not just for the commodity experience. The special offering that Rakuten can make to shoppers  – now and in the future – is one that balances the drivers of convenience and price with engaging experiences between shoppers and great retailers, both big and small.