Rakuten opens first European R&D center in Paris

Fresh off Viber deal, Rakuten continues plan to "become the world’s No.1 Internet services company"

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
February 19, 2014
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Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has made its mission clear: "to become the world’s No.1 Internet services company." That means, basically, that it wants to be able to offer all services, to all people, all around the globe. 

Fresh off its purchase of messaging and VoIP company Viber for $900 million earlier this week, Rakuten is now making a big push into Europe, announcing on Tuesday that it is opening its first research and development center on the continent.

The center, which will be based in Paris, will be called the Rakuten Institute of Technology. This is Rakuten’s third R&D center in the world; the other two are in Toyko, which has 40 employees, and New York City, which has 10.

The Paris office will initially have five employees, and will eventually combine with Rakuten’s Big Data Group in Paris, adding a total of 20 new employees to the Paris office within the next year.

The R.I.T. department is situated in the classical Haussmann building, alongside the office of PriceMinister, the French e-commerce firm Rakuten bought for $250 million in 2010.

The focus of R.I.T. will be to "support the development of the global e-commerce industry; ultimately to provide e-retailers with innovations to grow their brands." That means projects dedicated to revolutionizing data analytics, fraud detection, language, recommendation systems, image processing, user interfaces, and the ‘online to offline’ transition in e-commerce.

“Our aim globally is to empower retailers and merchants to sell online, and to do this we must keep up with consumers’ browsing and buying habits – online, on mobile, via social and any other channels that they may want to use in their purchase journey," Rakuten Chairman and CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, said in a statement.

"That’s why we’ve increased the size of our global research team, so they can work on bringing the next big thing in e-commerce to market, with our support."

Laurent Ach, a specialist in CGI and user interfaces, is being tasked with heading up the team of engineers, and has joined Rakuten specifically to set up the institute.

“The Paris team will be focusing on the links between bricks-and-mortar stores and online services in particular, as well as exploring new forms of digital interaction," Arch said in a statement. "Setting up our department alongside the Rakuten PriceMinister team should also present some opportunities for collaboration and we are looking forward to learning from them.”

Rakuten has been making numerous moves toward its goal in recent years, mostly through high profile purchases.

In addition to Viber and PriceMinister, the company also bought  eReading service Kobo; Europe-based video-on-demand and streaming service; and digital content platform, Viki. Viber, though, was its largest purchase yet.

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