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article imageRakuten to build new blockchain-based loyalty system

By James Walker     Feb 27, 2018 in Technology
Retail giant Rakuten, a popular Japanese Amazon rival, has announced it's planning a customer loyalty system based on blockchain technology. The company is building its own cryptocurrency, Rakuten Coin, to join its existing Rakuten Super Points scheme.
Rakuten detailed its vision for a "borderless currency" during a press event at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona today. According to TechCrunch, Rakuten sees its plans as another way to differentiate itself from rival online retailers. The company is keen to be seen as "very different from Amazon" as it's aiming to "recreate" the relationship between retailers and merchants.
Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani said the company's ecommerce platform is designed to be a "catalyst" for online retail. Instead of breaking apart relationships between buyers and sellers, Rakuten sees itself as a way for the two groups to meet and mutually benefit each other. The new blockchain-based loyalty offer is intended to engage customers and encourage more people to shop on Rakuten, helping the platform achieve its aims.
Rakuten's issued over 1 trillion "Super Points" to its customers since launching the program 15 years ago. Points are obtained every time you purchase an item from its marketplace. They can then be redeemed to obtain discounts on future purchases, a method which is effective in encouraging customer retention.
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Details of the Rakuten Coins scheme haven't yet been released, so it's unclear how they will differ from Super Points. However, the stated aim of creating a "borderless currency" suggests Rakuten's intending to make tokens a more prominent part of its platform. Customers could use Rakuten Coins to make international purchases without incurring exchange fees, which might prompt further growth of the company’s worldwide marketplace.
Rakuten's move to offer blockchain-based services pre-empts rival retailers, including Amazon. Despite the general hype around blockchain, retailers aren't yet widely using the technology to improve the customer experience.
The public interest in cryptocurrencies could help Rakuten recruit new loyalty members, which might directly lead to increased revenue. The company's decision to offer its own blockchain-based currency indicates its desire to create a new retail experience that's distinct from past commerce platforms.
Rakuten hasn't said when it will be ready to launch Rakuten Coin. Its public announcement at MWC suggests the company's nearing the platform's completion though, so it should arrive before other retailers begin to explore similar crypto-backed loyalty schemes. The reveal comes 18 months after Rakuten established a blockchain development lab and acquired Bitcoin wallet provider Bitnet.
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