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This is an archived article - we have removed images and other assets but have left the text unchanged for your reference officially launches today ahead of a month-long multichannel marketing campaign designed to spread awareness of its name in the UK.

The new marketplace site will ultimately replace which is to close next year. Rakuten says the focus is on empowering independent retailers to sell online. Initially independent UK merchants are selling on the site before international and high street merchants are able to join in the future.

“We’re open to all retailers coming on to the platform but we’ve really focused on that proposition around trying to make it interesting and different for consumers,” Mike Bishop, managing director of told InternetRetailing today. “A lot of high street retailers do that as well as independents but initially we’re very focused on getting independent, small retailers onto the site. That doesn’t preclude high street retailers – lots of high street retailers and big brands worked on and we want to work with them on as well.”

The new site puts Rakuten’s UK offering on the same global platform as Japan-based Rakuten’s other businesses. “Ultimately,” says Bishop, “all the Rakuten marketplaces around the world will be connected on one platform, which enables retailers from the UK to start selling to consumers in all those places, which will be much easier because we’re on one platform.”

From December, customers will be able to open a single Rakuten account to buy from allied businesses including Kobo and Wuaki, and in the future they will be able to buy from Rakuten marketplaces around the world. By doing so they’ll gain Super Points in the Rakuten loyalty scheme, which can be traded for a range of services and products.

The multichannel marketing around will emphasise the site as a new, exciting and engaging place to shop. As well as an online campaign, which includes the chance for Rakuten shoppers to become Super Points millionaires during November, the business is also running a series of weekend events around the country, starting in London on October 31. “We’ve got this big iconic symbol of a shopping bag which we’re going to put into locations in these cities with a video screen inside the bag,” said Bishop. “We’re going to do movie screenings, competitions, giveaways, around the big bag space in each city and create noise, interest and awareness of Rakuten as a brand in the UK, where it’s not a big well known brand as it is in Japan and Asia. We really want to start making that awareness a lot higher.”

Bishop says Rakuten aims to operate through a merchant-centric model; traders on the site will be supported by Rakuten’s ecommerce consultants, briefed to guide and support traders looking to make the most of their sales on the site by using rich and engaging content on the site.

“What consumers want from retailers is continually changing, however the desire for a personal and entertaining experience remains constant,” said Kenji Hirose, chief executive of Rakuten Europe. “With the launch of we are making it easier for shoppers to discover what they want and empowering merchants to provide it. Over the next 12 months we will pioneer a new era of borderless retail and entertainment by integrating our e-commerce offering with our global ecosystem of Internet services, to make shopping more fun.”

Commenting on the news, Adrien Nussenbaum, co-founder of marketplace solutions business Mirakl, said that Rakuten had two main challenges to address if its UK online marketplace was to be a success.

“The UK is a major ecommerce market and it makes sense for Rakuten to launch a marketplace here,” he said. “Consumers are comfortable buying from an online marketplace but do expect competitive pricing, a broad range of products and the same levels of customer service from the merchant as they would get from the main retailer.

“But there are two main challenges to face if this marketplace is to work. Firstly, there is virtually zero brand recognition in the UK for Rakuten and a successful marketplace often relies on the familiarity of the overall brand. Launching a marketplace under a brand people haven’t heard of, is a high risk move. Also, it will need more merchants, and quickly. A thriving marketplace is one with a range of products and with just a few hundred merchants, Rakuten isn’t yet in a position to offer this.”

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