How can Yahoo Japan fend off emerging e-commerce challengers?



This is part of our coverage of Infinity Ventures Summit Kyoto 2013

See the original story in Japanese.

The Japanese e-commerce market has a volume of $83 billion, but that accounts for only 10% of the country’s entire retail market [1]. Users in Japan have shifted to browsing on mobile, and that’s where the Japanese e-commerce industry will move as well.

On day one of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013, we heard from Yahoo Japan’s Takao Ozawa, whose title within the Internet giant is the head of ‘shopping company’. He shared some thoughts about how e-commerce companies can give users ways to discover new things to buy [2]. E-commerce giant Rakuten is said to be have over 100 million items on its platform, which helps you understand how important discovery and recommendation technologies will be for the e-commerce industry in the future.

This session was moderated by Hirofumi Ono, of Infinity Ventures Partners. In a response to his queston about how e-commerce platforms should communicate or suggest possible purchases to customers, Ozawa noted that there are three keys: curation, search, and recommendation. He elaborated:

Yahoo (Japan) is a search technology company. We’re actually using Google’s engine though. When you try to find something with a keyword like ‘TV’ on our platform, it gives you back few relevant results. This was fortunately fixed. Compared to other recommendation platforms, we have more capability to assess what pages or sites our users have browsed, and which ones can give them more relevant recommendations. We all know Amazon is very good at recommendation. But Yahoo Japan might provide better results since it has such an enormous number of active users in this country.

Yahoo News is also optimizing its interface for mobile browsing, and that may represent another chance to drive traffic to the e-commerce channel by inserting recommendations between articles. Our readers may recall news curation app Gunosy found success inserting ads between news headlines or articles.

Speaking to the recent trend of emerging ‘instant’ e-commerce platforms such as and Base, he encouraged retailers using these platforms to use Yahoo Shopping too, and that prompted a big laugh from the audience.

I think what and Base are providing are functions. I expect to give retailers ways to automate setting up a shop on Yahoo Shopping when they do that on both and Base. We’re a media platform, which is better at acquiring users. I think the combination of function and media will make for the best business results.

I’m skeptical if Yahoo Japan is serious about partnering with the emerging e-commerce platforms, but it is interesting to see how the platforms will generate a strong lead for their merchants.

  1. According to the Japanese ministry of economy, trade, and industry.
  2. A serial entrepreneur who launched a second-hand book and video marketplace EasySeek, established a professional baseball team at Rakuten, and invested in many emerging startups like Star Festival, Nanapi, and Tokyo Otaku Mode. He sold his social marketing agency Crocos to Yahoo Japan back in August of 2012, and joined YJ Capital (the investment arm of Yahoo Japan) to help cultivate its investment and e-commerce businesses.