October 2, 2014

Skype Competitor Viber, Bought by Rakuten, Will Become Face-to-Face eCommerce

viber

The hot new thing in tech at the moment is mobile phone IM platforms. Facebook bought WhatsApp, and Skype is boasting 300 million users worldwide. But how can you monetize something like this? Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO and Founder of Japanese eCommerce giant Rakuten, has said he intends to turn the newly-acquired Viber into an eCommerce platform.

Mikitani paid $900 million for the Viber VOIP platform, which originally started as a competitor for Skype. But now, in Mikitani’s hands, it could become a competitor to Amazon instead. CNN has dubbed him the “Japanese Jeff Bezos“, due to Rakuten, which is Japan’s answer to Amazon.

Rakuten is the largest eCommerce platform in Japan, and offers everything from financing to shopping to online video. It also owns eBook reader Kobo. Reuters says that the Viber deal will more than double Rakuten’s userbase (300 million Viber users added to 200 million Rakuten users). Mikitani wants that to grow to 2 billion users.

According to Mikitani, Viber will eventually be used to sell eBooks, content and games. But he also alluded to the idea that Viber would become a marketplace for smaller sellers:

“Ecommerce is entering into what I call the ‘humanization stage.’ We’re not trying to become a huge vending machine, we’re trying to replicate face to face human transaction using the information technology.”

Recode points out that the whole concept of selling on a mobile chat platform is not new. It was widely considered to be why Microsoft bought Skype. But the fact it didn’t work is probably, Recode speculates, due to the fact that smartphones and tablets were not widely used back then. Times have obviously changed.

Viber offers apps for multiple platforms, from desktops to mobile platforms. So the technology infrastructure is there to push content to Viber’s users. But it will be interesting to see how Rakuten will push that content to the Viber userbase without alienating them in the process. And it will also be interesting to see if, instead of 2 billion users, Mikitani will start losing users due to his deal with Viber.

It’s probably safe to say that not every Viber user is thrilled at the prospect of their IM platform turning into another iOS App Store.

Image: Viber

8 Comments ▼

Mark O'Neill - Staff Writer


Mark O'Neill Mark O'Neill is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering software and social media. He is a freelance journalist who has been writing for over 25 years, and has successfully made the leap from newspapers and radio onto the Internet. From 2007-2013, he was the Managing Editor of MakeUseOf.com.

8 Reactions

  1. Mark,

    What do you mean by your last sentence?

    “It’s probably safe to say that not every Viber user is thrilled at the prospect of their IM platform turning into another iOS App Store.”

    I have downloaded Viber on my iPhone! ;) I haven’t used it so much lately, but it seems that it has improved the quality of the communication process. The challenge that you should use it on a daily basis. Are you using FaceTime?

    Anyway, fascinating story and development in the mobile industry. What are the telcos saying about this? Will phone users use traditional mobile calls / SMS in the future, or alternatives like WhatsApp and Viber? What will the mobile phone companies earn money then?

    • Martin

      Mikitani wants to push multimedia content to Viber users. The only way is obviously through the Viber platform. So he is likely to set up some kind of iOS-type store on the Viber platform.

      But is every Viber user happy that this might be done? That was what I was asking. There are probably some very unhappy Viber users right now who are not thrilled with the company’s acquisition and possible future direction. Wouldn’t you agree?

      As to the questions in your last paragraph, I truly believe that in the future, there will be no mobile phones and SMS. At some point, we will be talking exclusively online with perhaps a video camera. SMS is already being made obsolete by Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger. At some point, technology will make mobile phones obsolete too. So there won’t be any mobile phone companies around to make a profit- because the Internet will put them out of business.

    • I think it is because Viber is now planning to turn its platform from a communication tool to an ebook selling center. With this, it can now become a competitor to Amazon more than Skype.

  2. Just updated Viber to latest version and now it will not connect. So uninstalled to try it again from fresh and now cannot activate it. It was a perfectly good app until this last update but now I will just use Tango instead as it no longer works.

    Guess this is not the kind of comment that will be met with pleasure but if it’s not fixed in under 1 week then I will have messaged everyone with Tango and switched permanently.

    The latest update was a perfect way to lose customers and ruin a perfectly good app.

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