- Rakuten, a Japanese global e-commerce rival to Amazon, is planning a new cryptocurrency called Rakuten Coin, reported TechCrunch.
- Rakuten Coin will be build on blockchain technology and Rakuten Super Points, the company’s loyalty program, CEO Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani told attendees of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week.
- The company plans to use Rakuten Coin to support loyalty services globally and to assist consumers in buying goods in the various Rakuten services and markets. Rakuten had $8.8 billion in revenues in 2017 and a very active loyalty program with over 1 trillion Super Points awarded in 15 years, which equates to $9.1 billion, TechCrunch reported.
Retailers are looking closely to see if there is any advantage for them in blockchain technology and crytocurrency. JD.com, for example, just announced the launch of AI Catapult, an accelerator for startups that it hopes will help develop its artificial intelligence and blockchain capabilities.
Retailers see the potential for blockchain to ease currency issues in cross-border payments, and this is especially true for a global e-commerce company like Rakuten. The company services 29 countries and regions, and has 44,000 merchants selling goods just in Japan, it's biggest market, according to TechCrunch. IBM Blockchain is processing live transactions in 12 areas across the Pacific Islands and Australia, New Zealand and the U.K, with plans to invite worldwide banks to participate. Rakuten, which also operates Japan’s biggest internet bank, hopes Rakuten Coin will become a "borderless currency." Customers could use the Rakuten Coins to make purchases worldwide without paying exchange fees, and the company hopes that will contribute to the growth of its international marketplace, noted Digital Journal.
A launch date has not been set, and details of the plan have not been released. TechCrunch reported that while Amazon is not yet involved in cryptocurrency, there is speculation that it might, based on purchases of domains. Meanwhile this is a key point of differentiation between the e-commerce giants. Walmart recently announced a strategic alliance with Rakuten, which for now will focus on grocery delivery in Japan, and e-books and audiobooks from Rakuten’s Kobo brand in the U.S., but the relationship is established if the two companies decide to share technologies in the future.
Addressing the difference between Rakuten and Amazon, CEO Mikitani said at Mobile World Congress: "Basically, our concept is to recreate the network of retailers and merchants. We do not want to disconnect (them from their customers) but function as a catalyst. That is our philosophy, how to empower society not just provide more convenience."
Rakuten’s loyalty program will now be based on blockchain technology and integrate the existing point system into Rakuten Coin, according to SiliconAngle. Rakuten points can now be used to purchase anything on Rakuten, from snacks to electronics. Among Rakuten's many holdings are PriceMinister in France (now being rebranded to Rakuten), OverDrive and Ebates. The plan is to integrate Rakuten Coin into all of Rakuten’s businesses, even the ones that do not have loyalty programs.