Online mall Rakuten to accept bitcoin in US, Germany

Rakuten hasn't decided yet on integrating bitcoin into its large Japanese site

Japanese e-commerce site Rakuten will become the latest online shopping mall to take bitcoin, with its services in the U.S., Germany and Austria accepting the digital currency.

The Amazon.com rival said Tuesday that it will use payments software from Bitnet, which Rakuten helped launch last year as a potential competitor to payment firms such as Bitpay and Coinbase.

The announcement follows comments last month by Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani that the e-commerce site would likely accept the digital money.

It makes Rakuten one of the largest online malls to accept bitcoin and will benefit online merchants with "no cross-border fees, no price volatility, and no fraud, risk or chargebacks," the company said in a release.

"We believe that bitcoin will support our mission of empowering the world through the Internet by helping our merchants compete better globally, but it also has the potential to benefit society by enhancing the security, privacy and convenience of financial transactions," a Rakuten spokesman said via email.

The company is considering various options for accepting bitcoin on its Japanese site but nothing has been decided, the spokesman added.

The biggest e-commerce site in Japan, Rakuten was founded in 1997 and now claims 97 million users in the country, which is over 75 percent of the population. While diversifying from online sales into financial, Internet and travel services as well as professional sports, it has embarked on a shopping spree in recent years to grow its user base into the billions and better compete with Amazon by adding infrastructure.

In 2012, Rakuten acquired Canadian e-reader firm Kobo. Last year, it bought messaging app Viber for US$900 million, as well as cash-back shopping website Ebates for $1 billion.

Its other acquisitions include Spanish video service Wuaki.tv, Viki, a digital content platform, logistics firm Webgistix and Buy.com.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

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Tim Hornyak

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