Merchant Innovation

Rakuten’s Research Centers Focused On Mobile

Japanese eCommerce giant Rakuten has opened two new research branches of the Rakuten Institute of Technology (RIT) in Boston and Singapore to spearhead its efforts in mobile and social innovation as it expands its market to other countries.

The Boston-based branch, which has been set up to focus on machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence, would be led by data scientist Dr. Ankur Datta.

While, on the other side of the globe, the Singapore branch would be led by Dr. Ewa Szymanska, a psychology expert focused on mobile and social innovations.

The new research centers would work along with three other research branches in New York, Paris and Tokyo to help develop innovative services by collaborating with universities and companies and recruiting researchers for its special projects.

One such collaborative project is the “Rakuten-Viki Global TV Recommender Challenge,” which the company just launched. The contest challenges data scientists in Asia and surrounding countries to solve problems using data from the global video streaming company Viki, which is based in Singapore.

Rakuten’s research operations expansion comes at a time when the company is making moves to multiply its revenue streams through mobile innovation and geographic expansion.

The company bought Kindle’s twin Kobo for $315 million in 2011. Though the acquisition has yet to turn a profit, Kobo saw a 25 percent increase in users, totaling to about 23 million by the end of 2014. The gain in popularity came after the company refocused its mobile innovation strategy by directing efforts towards selling e-books on a mobile app instead of poorly performing hardware products.

Analyzing its business size and impact, many experts refer to Rakuten as the “Alibaba of Japan.” However, unlike Alibaba, the company doesn’t have a very wide footprint across the globe just yet.

As the company marks its presence outside Japan, it is doing so by strategic acquisition of companies, which are slowly putting it on the forefront against various eCommerce players like Amazon and Facebook.

For instance, in 2014, it bought the instant messaging app Viber for $905 million and Ebates for $1 billion, which instantly put it in competition against its peers in the space.

With further investment in development of its research capabilities at RIT, the company would bring all its businesses together by developing new products to back up growth and utilize its preexisting infrastructure to boost its mobile commerce revenue, the company said.


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