Before Amazon became the online behemoth it is today, it used to go toe-to-toe with another big web retailer: Play.com. The site initially specialised in DVDs, video games and music -- selling products from Jersey to escape VAT charges and lower its prices -- before expanding into electronics and personal computers. In 2009, at the height of its popularity, UK consumers even rated it their favourite retailer.
Unfortunately for the company, that success didn't last and Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten swept in to buy the company for £25 million in 2011. It spun it off into a marketplace for independent sellers in 2013 and it's operated that way ever since. Well, it will until August.
In an email to sellers shared by MCV, Rakuten said that after a "strategic review of its operations in Europe," the company has "decided to consider plans to close Rakuten.co.uk to shoppers from the end of August 2016." It's already started discussions with employees over the closure of its website and its Cambridge office and has told merchants that it will keep its inventory tools open until the end of the year to allow for refunds and chargebacks on previous orders.
Rakuten's new strategy will also see it close its Spanish operation, including its office in Barcelona, but its French and German businesses will continue to trade as they have "the scale and potential for sustainable growth." It's a sad end for Rakuten.co.uk, and the Play.com brand that came before it. This editor remembers wasting hundreds of pounds on CDs and DVDs (and his first flatscreen LED TV) before Amazon and other big-name retailers sealed its fate.