Photo/Illutration Rakuten Inc. headquarters in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Rakuten Inc. on March 12 announced it will offer assistance to sellers who join the online giant's new free shipping program, after receiving a backlash from merchants and the Fair Trade Commission (FTC).

To sellers who offer free shipping, Rakuten will provide 100 yen (95 cents) per order that utilizes the "mail-bin" service for shipping light items. For shipping a small package, Rakuten will pay the seller 250 yen.

From March 18, Rakuten plans to introduce free shipping on orders of 3,980 yen or more, including tax, with the exception of shipments from Okinawa Prefecture and remote islands.

Rakuten initially mandated that all sellers adopt the free shipping policy.

However, the program elicited negative responses from angry merchants who claimed the policy would impose a one-sided burden on them and antitrust officials who said it could violate the Anti-Monopoly Law.

The hostile reception prompted Rakuten to allow sellers a choice in offering free shipping.

Rakuten will set a limit for monetary support, based on each seller’s volume of orders that were 3,980 yen or more in the same period last year.

Rakuten will offer the support to sellers from April 1 to June 30. The period may be changed at a later date.

The FTC asked the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 28 for an emergency court order to stop Rakuten’s new free shipping policy.

On March 6, Rakuten postponed the blanket roll out of the free shipping policy.

The FTC withdrew its court order request on March 10, but the officials continue their investigation into Rakuten regarding the possible violation of the Anti-Monopoly Law.