Rakuten Shopping Takes Aim At Amazon Collections With Debut of ‘Essential’

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RakutenWith Amazon’s August rollout of Collections, the commerce giant appeared to go head-to-head with Pinterest on an offering affording merchants a direct link to products consumers “like, want and recommend.”

Now, Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten appears to be working on its own image-centric platform following its $100 million investment in Pinterest last year.

Yesterday’s launch of Rakuten Essential, a cross between a content hub and a visual interest network, gives Rakuten Shopping, formerly Buy.com, a new "discovery" channel for its 19 million products and 4,000 merchants.

Working with Tidal Labs, a startup that connects publishers and platforms like Epicurious and Condé Nast to influential food and fashion bloggers, Rakuten Essential relies on “product-parsing” technology. That technology is layered on the Tidal community-building platform to integrate product information with Tidal’s content management system.

This connects merchants to content producers who might already have been writing and sharing content and images about their respective products, but in a more controlled environment where analytics can be applied to user-generated data.

“We wanted to get Rakuten Essential out the door quickly, but we think we have a unique proposition for product/content linking and certainly see the opportunity in tying product discovery deeply across our [existing partner base] like Lucky Community or Details Style Network,” commented Matt Myers, CEO of Tidal.

Although the paid trajectory of the Rakuten Essential operating model is not yet clear, Myers added, “Over time, our ‘closed loop’ approach to analysis should create great data on what content and what writers are helping to drive sales and what are the best distribution points for that content [paid, owned and earned.]”

The Tidal value proposition can be illustrated in its work to develop publisher Teen Vogue’s "Fashion Click Blogger Network."

“They wanted to tap into the fact that bloggers were creating content that rivaled what they were paying thousands of dollars for,” he said. With the escalation of content marketing and native advertising, traditional publishers are now competing with engineered commerce “platforms” like Polyvore that not only bring the consumer in to share images, but lasso the marketers there as well, to run content marketing campaigns based on their data.

“Rakuten is one of our first clients where the outcome metric is not necessarily page views - it’s actual conversions or sales,” Myers noted.

In terms of demographics, Buy.com had been more male-oriented with a heavy tech-emphasis, but “they have a lot of fashion, beauty and food products that aren’t necessarily presented front and center on their site. We, through our various partnerships, have a lot of strength in those lifestyle categories…so we’re able to bring that knowledge, network and content over to them, which would have been a very expensive and difficult proposition to do on their own.”

Rakuten Shopping's retail merchants find "competitors are just a click away online, and offering them a community to interact can be the deciding factor in a consumers' decision whether or not to navigate away from a website," commented Bernard Luthi, CMO of Rakuten.com Shopping. "Rakuten Essential is a key step [to create] the look and feel of a storefront experience to help small retailers establish brand awareness, drive sales and build customer loyalty."

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