Promoting Social Good and Building a Donation Culture in Japan—The Story Behind Mercari’s New Easy Donation Setting

“How can we encourage people to make donations in a unique, Mercari-like way?”

This question was first posed five years ago, and the answer finally took form at the end of last year. On December 19, 2023, Mercari released its new Easy Donation setting as part of Mercari Donation, allowing users to make donations through the listing and buying process on the Mercari marketplace.

In this article, we spoke to four of the core members behind this project: Masafumi Okubo (@bao), Yasuo Hishii (@hisshy), Yurie Imaeda (@Vanessa), and Ryohei Takahashi (@ryohey). Who will this feature benefit and how? What kind of social impact do they hope it will have? As the four of them look back on the project, we learn more about the story behind this feature and their ultimate vision of creating a culture of donating in Japan.

Featured in this article

  • Masafumi Okubo (@bao)

    Masafumi began his career as a PM at BizReach, Inc., and then moved to Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., where he worked on improving its e-commerce website and mobile app in Japan. He then went on to work on launching Fast Retailing’s new e-commerce website and app in Asia, Europe, and North America, and enhancing those services. He joined Mercari in March 2023.

  • Yasuo Hishii (@hisshy)

    As a new graduate, Yasuo joined Fujitsu, where he started his career as an infrastructure engineer. After that, he worked as an application engineer and PM at an IT startup, before joining Mercari in July 2018. At Mercari, Yasuo first took on a PM role improving the mobile app experience on both iOS and Android. Currently, he is in charge of establishing and leading our efforts to improve the buyer and seller experience in the mid-to-long term.

  • Yurie Imaeda (@Vanessa)

    Yurie is the manager of the Management Strategy Office’s Public Alliance Team at Mercari. Before joining Mercari, she worked at the Bank of Japan. There, her work included participating in a project to update the bank’s new computer network, monitoring financial institutions, and coordinating with central banks of other countries. Yurie joined Mercari in September 2021, where she has been involved in various projects aimed at promoting a circular economy, policy planning for consumers, support for new businesses, and research on overseas policies.

  • Ryohei Takahashi (@ryohey)

    In his 20s, Ryohei served as an Ichikawa City council member, and in his 30s, he became the youngest person to be appointed to a director position at a local government in Japan. Over the course of his career, he has also served in such roles as chairperson of the Meeting of Young Council Members of Japan, researcher at the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, and specially appointed professor at Chuo University. He joined Mercari’s Public Policy Division in June of 2018 and single-handedly started the company’s partnerships with local governments. Ryohei has been selected as one of the “Top 100 People Rebuilding Japan” by Aera magazine and for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) by the United States Department of State. He also currently serves as a Chairperson of the Supporting Association for Student Council Activity Japan. At Mercari, he is the chief editor of Merpoli, our blog for public policy-related activities.

Spreading social good and building a donation culture in Japan


—First off, congratulations on the release of Easy Donation! Could you tell us a bit about the feature and how it came to be?

@bao: Sure! This is a new feature that allows users to set up automatic donations in their listings. When users list an item, they can select a donation recipient and a percentage of their sales proceeds to donate. Then, when that item sells, the selected amount will be donated to the organization that they chose. Up until now, users were able to make donations through our Mercari Donation feature, but this required them to pull from their existing sales balance. With this new feature, donating requires a lot less thought and effort, since it is linked to the actions our users are already taking on our marketplace. Another great thing about this new feature is that it incorporates both the seller and the buyer. The sellers are the ones selecting the recipient and donation amount, but the buyers can also feel like they are doing a good deed through shopping on Mercari.

Compared to other countries, there is not much of a culture of making donations in Japan. Through the Easy Donation feature, we are hoping to make donating a more common practice and accessible to more people, including people who have never used our service before. I see this feature as one step toward building a donation culture in Japan.

List an item > Select an organization > Select a donation amount > Displayed in item description!

@ryohey: I joined Mercari back in 2018, and this feature is actually something we’ve wanted to do since then. That year, Japan was suffering from several natural disasters. While thinking about what our company could do to help, we started asking ourselves, “How can we encourage people to make donations in a unique, Mercari-like way?” We discussed various possibilities and ultimately came up with the idea to provide sellers with an option to donate a percentage of their sales for each item. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make this idea happen at the time due to a shortage in engineering resources. Instead, we decided to start with what is now known as “Mercari Donation,” which allows users to make donations from their Merpay sales balance. Fast forward a few years later, when the product side reached out about the possibility of releasing a new donation feature, I was overjoyed. We were finally able to make our idea from 2018 a reality.

Ryohei Takahashi (@ryohey)

@Vanessa: There are actually similar features that exist outside of Japan. Our Easy Donation feature was inspired by these features from countries with a stronger culture of donation and philanthropy. As @bao touched on earlier, by encouraging the habit of donating among our users, it will be an opportunity to spread a similar culture here in Japan.

@bao: Right, you see and hear about it much more in other countries. For example, back when I was working in Taiwan and our team was brainstorming new ideas to expand our app, I remember being really taken aback at how many donation-related ideas there were. I also recently noticed a new feature on Instagram where, if someone makes a donation, it shows up on their profile with a link to the cause that they donated to. It really shows how the act of giving is becoming a form of self-expression.

@ryohey: That reminds me of how when I used to live in Germany, it was very common for people to donate money, toys, and other items to charities during Christmas time in Europe. The holidays were a time to give not just to your family and friends, but to your community and society at large. I was really drawn to this culture of doing what you can to make our society better for everyone, and I’d like to spread this kind of mindset in Japan.

—You mentioned it’s a win-win for sellers and buyers, but I imagine there are pros for the organizations on the receiving end and our company as well. What kind of other benefits or impact do you see this feature having?

@hisshy: I think the biggest benefit is the social good aspect. This feature takes the actions that our users are familiar with on our marketplace, and adds a new element of social good. Through buying and selling on Mercari, users can feel like they are making a positive impact on society. In this way, it will bring us even closer to our mission to circulate all forms of value—the feature offers value that goes beyond just pure money and sales.

And, this is also a big step for us as a service provider, as people will have more reasons to use Mercari. Before, the main motivation for people to list on our marketplace was to sell things they no longer need and earn sales proceeds. However, going forward, selling on Mercari can benefit not just the users themselves, but also society at large. I think there is something unique and exciting about being able to turn your unwanted items into donations, and I hope this added element will help our service reach more people.

Another significant benefit is how the process for making donations is much more natural and intuitive. Previously, with our original Mercari Donation feature, donating required its own set of actions. Users needed to send the donation from their Merpay sales balance, and for people to complete this separate process, it usually required a strong will to donate. With Easy Donation, the process is now included in the act of buying and selling, so users will be able to make donations with much less thought and hassle.

@Vanessa: The feature also makes things easier in the sense that there are no physical limitations. For example, if you’re trying to make a donation at a local fundraiser, they may only accept certain categories of items like children’s clothes and books. Or, you may need to take your belongings to a specific location within a specific time. However, on Mercari, there is more freedom and fewer limitations. If you see something at home that you want to turn into a donation, you can just use your smartphone or computer to list it on our marketplace. I believe this feature will expand the possibilities with donations.

Yurie Imaeda (@Vanessa)

@ryohey: As you mentioned, there are pros for the charities and other recipients, too. Of course, there’s the fact that they will get more donations, but if we can spread a culture of making donations in Japan, that would be a huge plus for them in the long run. Nonprofit organizations feel just as strongly about our vision of making donating more common in Japan and reaching people who have never made a donation before. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been very welcoming of the idea of partnering up and working on new initiatives to create this new wave together in Japan. I think Easy Donation is a good first step, and these activities are a part of Mercari’s role as a company that is aiming to unleash the potential in all people and serve as a “public entity of society.”

@Vanessa: For our company, it’s also tied to one of our material topics, “Building Long-Term Public Trust.” The FY2023.6 Impact Report goes into detail about Mercari’s various initiatives toward promoting ESG, but I think this feature contributes to this topic in particular.

@hisshy: It has the potential to introduce a new form of value to people’s lives, apart from just physical objects and money. Through using the feature, I think more people will be able to feel connected to society and feel that their actions are making a positive impact.

Setting a clear vision and rounding up members along the way


—Looking back at the entire journey leading up to the release, which one of Mercari’s three values do you think the project encompassed most?

@Vanessa: Definitely All for One! This was uncharted territory for all of us, since there aren’t many donation features like this that exist in Japan. We looked into what other companies were doing and worked with other teams to cover the legal, accounting, design, development, and compliance aspects. It was a real team effort figuring out what format would be the most effective and the smoothest experience for our users. We were under a pretty tight timeline, but we were able to get everything done by the release thanks to everyone’s support in driving this project forward.

@bao: It’s All for One for me, too. I took the lead of this project just six months after joining Mercari, when there was still so much I didn’t know. I couldn’t have done it without the team’s support—especially @Vanessa and @ryohey, who introduced me to other teams and helped me overcome any obstacles that I ran into along the way.

Initially, I was worried whether development teams would agree to dedicate their resources to this project, since the feature is not directly linked to the profitability of our product. However, they ended up being just as excited about this feature as I was, and treated it as a very meaningful project for the company. This project would not have succeeded without this kind of support and understanding that I received from around the company.

It was also very encouraging to see how much executives were invested in the project. They provided us with a lot of feedback and ideas for improvements, which I think was a source of motivation for the entire team to create something we can all be proud of.

Masafumi Okubo (@bao)

@Vanessa: I felt that, too. I was in charge of the communication with executives, so I saw their dedication and strong will firsthand. Their bold decisions helped push this project forward.

Each one of the executives had a vision for the feature, and I’m sure it was challenging at times to incorporate each person’s wishes. But, I think these discussions and ideas helped us end up with something unique that is unlike other services in Japan.

@ryohey: I’m going to go with All for One, too. It was a large team, but rather than deciding the project members at the start, our team got bigger as we went. As the project moved along and we started to get a better sense of what we wanted to do, we reached out to different teams and rounded up people along the way. I think there was a fun, collaborative spirit at the core of this project. It spread across divisions, and everyone helped each other out, even for tasks that were outside their domain.

For me personally, I’d also throw in Be a Pro. I had a mission to execute contracts with six different organizations within one month, and I think it was pretty Be a Pro of me to get this done.

@hisshy: I hate to break the chain of All for One’s here, but I’m going to choose Go Bold. (laughs)

All: Of course you are! (laughs)

@hisshy: I think that I demonstrated the values most at the beginning of the project, when I was leading discussions with stakeholders. I strongly believed that, in order for this project to be successful, the purpose and intention behind the feature needed to be clear. It was important to explain to executives and other stakeholders how the Easy Donation feature will contribute to the growth of our service, and have everyone be on board.

Through communicating with other members, we started to form a clear vision of how this feature will impact Mercari’s business—it will incorporate new forms of value other than just money and expand the possibilities of circulation on our marketplace. So, I’d say Go Bold.

Yasuo Hishii (@hisshy)

@bao: Yeah, this communication was quite challenging. It’s easier to show the impact of something using quantitative metrics like GMV (gross merchandise value), but that was not possible with this feature—we needed to find other ways to communicate its value and impact. The way that @hisshy led these discussions and got people to understand our vision, I agree that it was very Go Bold!

Pursuing our company’s long-term vision while making the world a kinder place


—Now, I’d like to go back to what @hisshy mentioned earlier about the aspect of social good. By getting more people interested in donating and creating a movement of social good, how do you think this feature can help Mercari achieve its mission?

@Vanessa: When I think about the act of donating, at the core, I think it’s all about wanting to help your local community and society at large. It feels good to be contributing to something larger than yourself, and if we’re able to make donating a more widespread habit, I think it will add more joy and meaning to people’s lives. If this feature can encourage more people to help others, it will make the world a kinder place, and also get us closer to the kind of world that we are envisioning in Mercari Group’s mission.

@bao: I was going to say a similar thing—I hope this feature becomes an opportunity for people to think about what they can do for others.

Before, people’s main reason for using Mercari might have been to make money. However, now, there is an option to use those sales to give to others. Through the feature, our users can discover the feeling of joy that comes from helping others. If we’re able to help more people discover this feeling, I think it will indeed make the world a kinder place!

@Vanessa: Absolutely. Donating actually requires a lot of thought, like deciding how much to donate and to where. I also feel that there aren’t many people who follow up afterwards to see how exactly their money was used. By making it possible to turn an item that you have right in front of you into a donation, not only does it require less thought, it makes the donation feel more personal. Our users can also see how their donations are being used on each organization’s website.

@hisshy: In terms of our mission, I think the key is how we can take “unnecessary” items and turn them into things that are “necessary.” I see there being a micro view and a macro view. In the micro view, the focus is on the individual. It is up to each individual to look through the things in their home and get rid of things that they no longer need on their own. (Left side of the image below)

However, if you take a look at the macro view, you’ll see how the Mercari marketplace introduces more possibilities. The items that an individual no longer needs can be circulated and find new meaning in someone else’s hands. For sellers, this will also generate sales, so they can use that money to purchase other things that they need instead. With the macro view, everyone has more “necessary” items in their hands. (Right side of the image below)

In this way, our vision is to circulate unnecessary items and turn them into something necessary. Money is an important element that drives this circulation, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be money. For example, with the new Easy Donation feature, I think social good can be the driving force instead of money—people can be motivated to list their unwanted items to do an act of good for others. That is a form of turning something unnecessary into something valuable and necessary for others. As long as we can do this, I believe it will be one significant step toward our mission.

@ryohey: Mercari is my first corporate job. Before Mercari, I was working in the government and nonprofit organizations, where social good was a huge theme. In those organizations, I remember feeling that it was becoming increasingly difficult to achieve social good with just the nonprofit sector alone. Businesses were starting to do more of what we were doing—there was a growing emphasis on social issues and ESG initiatives, and it was no longer acceptable for corporations to just be focusing on profit. In the midst of these changes, I started to see a more seamless connection between the nonprofit sector’s vision and that of corporations.

Mercari is a commercial business, so of course, making money is a must. However, the company has a long-term vision—we are not just focused on short-term profit. In order for Mercari to achieve its mission in the long term, we will continue to work toward creating new forms of value and circulating this value.

To end, I just want to say that I hope many different people will use the Easy Donation feature. Years from now, perhaps donations will be much more common in Japan, and the Mercari marketplace will have played a key role in creating that culture. How cool would that be?

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