Rakuten and how to win in the digital world

Rakuten digital identity
Image credit: Sasun Bughdaryan / Shutterstock.com

The Rakuten story sole the show at MWC this year, mainly because of the 5G angle. There is, however, so much more to their story than just a 5G play. If you sift through the pages of associated companies and activities one thing stands out.

Rakuten is a digital identity broker for their members.

This means they have cracked what only Amazon and a couple of others have cracked. Simplicity of purchase.

You probably either do this yourself or know someone who does: you realise you need [insert name of thing you need] you search for it on Amazon (other ecommerce platforms are available) you click on the thing you need, you pay for it with one click and the next day it appears on your doorstep.

The reason that Amazon – and Rakuten – are as successful as they are, is because they take away the frustration of endless sign-ins, sign-ups and giving away of email addresses and phone numbers that most sites demand. They take away the frustration.

This also means that Rakuten understands that this capability is what the ‘mobile lifestyle’ is all about. If it is easy to buy, well, almost anything, with one sign-in and one click that takes care of payment and delivery, then why not extend that to insurance or credit cards, travel or banking.

At the moment the social media giants seem to have cornered the market on the digital identity broker play and you have to ask yourself why. Their trust with their users is waning. Their security, at least in the public’s eyes, sucks. And they actually offer you very little that is tangible, while grabbing your data, selling it and running.

Telcos have that tangible connection. They provide access to the digital world and, normally, they provide the handset or device that allows you to control your version of that world.

We use to debate, endlessly and at the highest levels, who ‘owns’ the customer. We all agreed, partly because we all came from the telco world, that telcos did.

Then they gave it away. They were not in time to leverage the asset called trust.

Now, and more so with the on-going revelations about how little social media companies care about you (only about your data), telcos are once again in a position to leverage it.

Rakuten is doing just that and doing it in a way that should be a model for how other telcos can shape the digital world – as digital identity brokers.


  1. Really interesting article thanks Alex!!

    The telcos have subscribers in large numbers and (generally speaking) have the trust garnered from billing those customers for many, many years. It’s definitely a massive asset in the telcos’ pockets.

    In the past they also offered services with a perceived premium (eg remote communication with other people via phone). But those connectivity services have long since commoditised and the perceived premium has been lost. They now just need to find a way to re-establish the trusted biller link on premium services (even if it’s just clipping the ticket on third-party offerings)

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