Rakuten, Japan's Amazon, Launches Fashion Site in the U.S.

Heads up, holiday shoppers.
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Eliza Brooke
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Heads up, holiday shoppers.
Rakuten Fashion. Photo: Rakuten

Rakuten Fashion. Photo: Rakuten

If you haven't heard of Rakuten, think of it as the Amazon or Alibaba of Japan. Founded in 1997, the e-commerce company brought in 518 billion yen in revenue last year -- that's around $4.9 billion.

Having purchased the San Francisco-based rebates website Ebates for just south of $1 billion earlier this month, Rakuten is continuing its push into the U.S. with the launch of a fashion-focused website, Rakuten Fashion. The site is a mix of men's and women's brands American shoppers will know -- Volcom, Lucky Brand, Ralph Lauren Polo -- and Japanese brands they may not have heard of before.

According to George Chang, Rakuten’s SVP of sales, merchandising and marketplace, the vertical is looking to target two groups: Current Rakuten shoppers, and women ages 18 to 35. As Chang explains it, product prices hit just above Macy's and at the bottom range of Nordstrom.

So how can Rakuten compete with Amazon and Ebay on the fashion front? Amazon is all about efficiency and reliability, Chang says, and it has translated its straightforward, information-heavy product pages over to Amazon Fashion. The fun and fantasy of shopping for clothes is lost. 

Rakuten, on the other hand, looks to blend shopping with entertainment, Chang says. Its fashion vertical is dressed up with a blog, video features and curations by influencers like Hannah Bronfman and Marie Claire editor Kyle Anderson.

Of course, Amazon also owns Shopbop and MyHabit, both of which look and feel very much like fashion sites. While Rakuten Fashion might give Amazon Fashion some competition, we expect Amazon's fashion portfolio is going to be just fine overall.

As for Ebay, Chang points out that it still has the "stigma" of being a re-sale site attached to it, despite the fact that it sells plenty of new clothing as well.

While we're looking forward to seeing how Rakuten Fashion takes off in the U.S., it seems unlikely that shoppers will leave their e-commerce standbys in droves for it. With its bright, busy design, the site doesn't read fashion just yet.