Walmart Partners with Japan's Version of Amazon
Making new partners to strengthen its efforts to compete with Amazon, Walmart has formed a strategic alliance with Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten and its Rakuten Kobo subsidiary that will bring e-books, audiobooks and e-readers to the mass merchant later this year.
In a joint announcement, the companies said Walmart will serve as the exclusive retailer for the Rakuten Kobo brand in the U.S., making its nearly six million e-book and audiobook titles accessible through a Walmart/Kobo co-branded mobile/desktop application and the Kobo e-reader. The offerings will directly compete with Amazon's Kindle.
In Japan, the alliance includes the launch of a new online grocery delivery service via Walmart subsidiary Seiyu GK — one of Japan's largest supermarket chains. Beginning in the second half of the year, the service will offer fresh produce, daily consumables, convenience items such as cut vegetables, partially prepared foods and meal kits, as well as popular local gourmet products from the Rakuten Ichiba marketplace. Rakuten Ichiba is known as the "Amazon of Japan" and accounts for a quarter of online transactions in the country, according to Bloomberg.
Dubbed "Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper," the grocery delivery service is expected to operate through both a new, dedicated fulfillment center and Seiyu stores. Rakuten e-commerce expertise and data will inform the site presentation, user experience and personalized merchandise offerings, the companies said. Shoppers can also earn Rakuten Super Points redeemable for services within the Rakuten ecosystem.
"Rakuten is a strong e-commerce business and we're excited to collaborate with the top online shopping destination in Japan," said Walmart chief executive officer Doug McMillon. "Here in Japan and everywhere we operate, we're constantly exploring new ways to make every day easier for customers by offering great experiences in stores, online, via mobile — no matter how customers want to shop. We look forward to expanding our grocery footprint in Japan and launching a new offering of e-books and audiobooks for our customers in the U.S."
Rakuten Group was founded as an online marketplace and expanded to also encompass financial technology, digital content and communications services. Rakuten in 2011 acquired Toronto-based Kobo, which had originally sought to enter the U.S. via Borders before the book chain filed bankruptcy.