In his interview with Ratuken chairman and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, Geoffrey Fowler of the Wall Street Journal touches on how cultural differences have taken an Internet business down a much different path than its U.S. counterparts:
Mr. Mikitani: The merchant—meaning the "shop operator" or "shop master"—is very important for us. We allow our merchants to own a store in a mall.
For example, the Amazon marketplace doesn't allow the merchants the ability to interact with the end customer. In the U.S. with Amazon, the business goes merchant, Amazon and then user. We go Rakuten, merchant and then end user.
Sometimes it's a little bit noisy for some people. Some people might like the more straightforward Wal-Mart type—the big general store. We are like the marketplace in Europe and Japan with many, many stores. They are live and edit every day and want to communicate with their customer.
We believe that comparison shopping and convenience is important. But if you just keep competing on price, nobody is going to win.
Mikitani doesn't suggest at any point that Ratuken's approach is somehow superior to Amazon's or to eBay's. To do so would have been decidedly un-Japanese.
Yet the first two-thirds of the interview provoke thought. Shopping may be a nearly universal activity, but no shopping experience can be a one-size-fits-all proposition. The way we each prefer to respond to our inner hunter-gatherer varies by culture, person, and sometimes by the merchandise we seek.
All of which underscores that one of the reasons for e-commerce's more modest initial success in China was that the prototypical Amazon / Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) /eBay experience was lacking one or more ingredients important for China's shoppers. Despite the success of Taobao and Joyo, I think the industry is getting closer, but it is not quite there yet.
It will be interesting to watch the Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) - Ratuken tie-up. Will they get closer to the winning formula?
Disclosure: No positions