Rakuten has unveiled plans to unleash its own blockchain-based cryptocurrency as part of efforts to transform its 15-year-old loyalty rewards programme, Rakuten Super Points.
The Japanese e-commerce giant had issued some 1 trillion Super Points, estimated to be worth US$9.1 billion, since the platform's inception in 2003. It currently issued between US$2 billion and US$2.5 billion, said Rakuten's CEO and founder Hiroshi Mikitani, during his speech at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Super Points were awarded when Rakuten customers made purchases and could be used in exchange for discounts on other purchases on the e-commerce marketplace.
"So, now imagine if we convert this to cryptocurrency," Mikitani posed.
He said the company now was working to enhance the Super Points programme and release its own cryptocurrency, called Rakuten Coin, which would run on blockchain technology.
He pointed to a research and development (R&D) lab it had established in 2016, focused exclusively on blockchain and its application in the fintech and e-commerce sectors.
This, he said, had been set up in preparation for Rakuten Coin, but did not say when the cryptocurrency would be publicly released.
The CEO hoped its introduction would drive Rakuten's ecosystem of services and marketplaces, and further engage customers across its global platforms, which included Ebates in the US, Rakuten TV, Kobo, and Viber.
Super Points currently supported some 70 of the company's services.
Rakuten in 2016 had acquired the intellectual property assets of Bitnet Technologies, which operated a digital payments platform based on blockchain technology.
The Japanese e-tailer last month inked a partnership with Walmart in the US to tap each other's resources and grow their customer base in both countries. The alliance would include the introduction of an online grocery delivery service in Japan, slated for launch in the third quarter of 2018.
Walmart also would start offering ebooks and audiobooks, including Rakuten's Kobo e-readers, it its stores and online site.