TOKYO: Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce business, is mapping out a new business direction, which includes investment in bots and mobile games, following a year in which it has undergone some major restructuring.

At the start of 2016 it closed its online marketplaces across Southeast Asia as part of a shift from a B2B2C model towards one based on C2C and mobile, and mid-year it shut its operations in the UK and Spain to concentrate on those in France and Germany.

It is now focused on innovation, as Rahul Kadavakolu, Executive Director/Global & Group Marketing and Branding at Rakuten, explained to Campaign Asia-Pacific.

"Our mission is to be a global innovation company and we are always looking at new technologies we can embed into our ecosystem to improve service levels and customer experience," he said.

One of those he expects to be bots, which will help companies and marketers "learn more, and learn deeply, about customers and preferences" so enabling them to improve personalisation and recommendations.

"From a marketing perspective, [it] will really help us shape our campaigns and messages better," he said.

"Data and customer experience cannot be unlinked from marketing," he added. "Customers are talking, but how much are we listening as a brand? Bots can play a key role in amplifying the listening and learning process and help marketers pick signals from all the noise."

The company was also reported earlier this month to be setting up a smartphone games platform as it seeks to emulate the success of Pokémon Go and to diversify into new areas.

And just a couple of weeks ago it made a splash in European football when it announced a four-year shirt sponsorship deal worth £48m a year with Barcelona FC, a step aimed at boosting its brand image globally.

Rakuten said it would draw on its global reserves to deliver initiatives to players and fans showcasing its technological prowess in messaging, drones, e-commerce, AI and more.

Data sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific, Wall Street Journal, Rakuten; additional content by Warc staff