My good friend Mike Berkens at TheDomains seemed to be in ‘shock and awe‘ mode today, over the rebranding of Buy.com as ‘Rakuten’.
A couple of facts: Rakuten exists as a brand since 1999 in Japan, having used the name “Rakuten Ichiba” since 1997. Apparently, Rakuten generated $4.7 billion dollars in revenue in 2011, a year after they bought Buy.com for $250 million dollars.
I believe that Buy.com was the first retailer I spent money on, long before Amazon. Their service wasn’t spectacular then, and I wasn’t drawn to the company because I randomly typed “Buy.com” in the web browser; even back then in 1998, Buy.com was a brand for consumer electronics and computer parts.
Soon though, I moved to using retailers such as Amazon or Newegg. The latter – hardly a generic – is my favorite destination for computer gear to this day, simply because of the stellar customer service and low prices they provide.
So for more than a decade, Buy.com slipped into oblivion; if I were to follow the logic of domainers, since I wanted to “buy” something I should just enter that generic keyword in Google or the browser.
That’s not how businesses are built, however. Brands – names that are partially or fully crafted – move the Internet, a word that is also a brand: nobody is looking for “information superhighway,” thank goodness.
Ultra generics serve a purpose, but they cannot overthrow the strengths of brands: Nike, Microsoft, Xerox, Pepsi, Audi, BMW, Canon etc.
I’m not sure what Rakuten will do with Buy.com; my guess is that they will wrap it into a service and sell it off to a company willing to use it as an outlet. Brand penetration, after all, requires a brand that even when it makes use of a generic word, it’s used as a manifestation of a product or service.
Just ask Apple.com.