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Japan's Rakuten plots e-commerce world domination.

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The increasing popularity of e-commerce and other online activities are prompting many professionals and business owners to try and harness the potential of the internet. 

In the near future, people will use their face or a fingerprint as identification to access online shopping portals instead of a conventional password, says Mr Hiroshi.

To capitalise on the trend, Rakuten of Japan, the world's third-largest online marketplace, is adding a "human touch" to its site, which it claims will mark the beginning of a new chapter in e-commerce. Rakuten's marketplace enables its online merchants to directly contact and interact with their customers.

"I believe online shopping will become a mainstream channel over the next five to 10 years," said Hiroshi Mikitani, Rakuten's group chairman.

The internet firm has market capitalisation of US$14.8 billion in the US stock market.

The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and smart wireless devices, along with high-speed broadband availability in 3G and cloud computing technology, has encouraged the growth of e-commerce, said Mr Mikitani.

Online purchases via wireless devices last year surged five-fold year-on-year.

He expects people will use their face or a fingerprint as identification soon to access online shopping portals instead of a conventional password.

The higher capacity of software to analyse large amounts of digital data will also enable online merchants to personalise their marketing to target users based on behaviour segmentation.

The integration of online shopping malls with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter promotes the social shopping experience, enabling merchants to communicate with their fans apart from blogs or e-mail lists.

Unlike other global e-commerce rivals including Amazon and eBay that focus on products, Mr Mikitani said Rakuten Ichiba's site offers shoppers a human touch. Rakuten gains revenue from merchants via a fixed transaction fee per month.

Rakuten is in talks with a few big clothing manufacturers to set a global size standard for clothes, to eliminate confusion in different sizes.

Rakuten is also entering the e-reader or digital content tablet market after acquiring the Canadian e-reader firm Kobo for $315 million last year. E-Books can provide up to a 30% margin.

E-commerce contributed 41% of its total revenue in 2010, or $16 billion.

"Our goal is to increase local merchandise sales to 10 trillion yen (3.95 trillion baht) in the near future, after we reached 395 billion baht in 2011 from 38,000 merchants, making us Japan's largest online shopping mall," he said.

Rakuten has been expanding overseas the past five years through acquisitions and partnering with online marketplaces in 10 countries including Thailand, in which it acquired in 2009. "We aim to expand to 27 countries as soon as possible, with the aim to become the No.1 global e-commerce player," he said.

In the long run, Rakuten aims to increase the proportion of merchants outside Japan to 70%.

Ken Takayama, vice-president for international business of Rakuten, said it plans more acquisitions this year with merchants in 3-4 countries in Southeast Asia, North America and Europe. In 2010, overseas revenue made up only 6% of Rakuten's total revenue.

Last year, it acquired UK's e-commerce site for $39.2 million, completed a joint venture with Indonesia's largest media group, PT Global Mediacom, to launch a site in the country, and acquired Ikeda of Brazil and Germany-based e-commerce provider Tradoria. For the Thai operating unit, Mr Takayama admitted the company struggled last year.

Pavut Pongvityapanu, the founder of, which Rakuten bought a 67% share of for 112 million baht, said Tarad gave e-commerce training courses. "I believe e-commerce in Thailand will become more competitive with new global players," said Mr Pavut. "Rising internet penetration in the country will spur digital market growth by 25% this year, up to 87.5 billion baht."

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