Is Rakuten giving up on North America? Social and hiring data suggest as much.
Ask someone in the know about Rakuten ($TYO:4755) and they'll probably say something like, "Rakuen? Oh, that's the Amazon of Japan."
And they would be right: Rakuten is the largest e-commerce company in Japan, beating out Amazon Japan. That's no small feat: Japan is still the third-largest economy in the world, and its e-commerce sector is one of the fastest growing.
So when Rakuten spent a pretty coin on a Super Bowl commercial, some thought that the e-commerce company was going to finally make a serious move on the Amazon-dominated US e-commerce marketplace. Instead, the ad was a 30-second spot that taught people how to pronounce the brand name with messaging that simply finished with the tagline, "A More Rewarding Way to Shop."
The ad campaign didn't seem to have much of an affect on Rakuten's US brand awareness, however. Facebook likes for the brand in the US, for instance, have been on a tumble for some time.
The company has since joined its RakutenUS with its international Rakuten Facebook account, which gives is a slightly more impressive 228,561 followers but as you can see in the graph above, the brand had been bleeding followers until a slight bump from the Super Bowl campaign.
Around the same time, Rakuten turned its US operation into little more than a re-branded version of Ebates, a cash back and shopping rewards site that uses affiliate links to save consumers a little bit of cash all while generating affiliate revenue for the referrer.
So has Rakuten given up on the US, at least as a direct, Amazon-competing e-commerce play? Its positioning and site refresh certainly suggest as much.
Even more so, hiring at Rakuten is now razor focused on Asia with hiring in the Americas all but stopped.
If you scroll into the past in the above bar chart, you'll see that, at one time, Rakuten was building up a US workforce, hiring as many as 1,000 people. But as of this week, Rakuten lists just a few hundred openings in the United States.