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Rakuten Shows It’s More than Ecommerce as It Scoops up Viber

Online merchants in the U.S. know Rakuten as a marketplace on which to sell thanks to the rebranding of its Buy.com website to Rakuten.com Shopping. But while it’s often thought of as a global ecommerce company, Rakuten also operates other businesses including digital content offerings, and its most recent acquisition is a reminder of that fact.

Rakuten paid $900 million for a mobile communications service called Viber last week, which has a rapidly growing global user base of 300 million registered users. A Rakuten spokesperson said Viber perfectly complements Rakuten’s strategy in the digital space as people continue to shift from traditional content and communications platforms to mobile applications. “As Rakuten aims to become the world’s No.1 Internet services company, this acquisition will enable Rakuten to penetrate new markets with multiple digital content offerings, in combination with its ecommerce and financial services platforms,” she said.

Rakuten has 40 different services, but they are centered around a unified ID membership database of 225 million global members that features the online Rakuten Super Points rewards program.

“Viber’s fun approach to messaging and high quality VoIP services is a perfect marriage with Rakuten’s digital content offerings and its “Shopping is Entertainment” philosophy laying the foundation for the world’s most comprehensive and engaging daily online platform,” according to the spokesperson.

Rakuten outlines its ambitious mission and goal on its corporate website: “Our Mission is to Empower People and Society through the Internet. Our Goal is to Become the No. 1 Internet Services Company in the World.” There, you’ll discover the company operates financial services including payment processing, online banking, brokerage and life insurance. (It also owns a pro baseball team (the Rakuten Golden Eagles) and a bridal information and service provider, O-net.)

Rakuten’s spokesperson said the acquisition of Viber solidifies Rakuten’s footprint in the digital content space, alongside Kobo (ebooks), the Wuaki.tv TV-and-movie streaming site in Spain and most recently Viki, a streaming site in Singapore.

The Wall Street Journal blogged that the quick expansion of Wuaki.tv “offers a window into Rakuten’s broader strategy of buying and then expanding a suite of overlapping businesses – from eecommerce sites to digital-content bazaars – that can build off each other.”


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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.